Home rebuilding project celebrated

Cooperative effort of 10 faith-based organizations with volunteers from 27 states repair 12 Katrina-damaged homes in New Orleans.

BY WALT WILTSCHEK | NEW ORLEANS | May 14, 2009


A volunteer works on one of the 12 houses that were part of the Neighborhood: New Orleans blitz build effort.
Credit: DNN/Walt Wiltschek

A parade, celebrating the unprecedented ecumenical effort to rebuild Katrina-damaged homes, makes its way down Curran Avenue in New Orleans' Little Woods neighborhood, en route to Gloria Mouton's new home.
Credit: DNN/Walt Wiltschek

As the ribbon was cut on a new home Wednesday, a brass band on hand for Wednesday’s celebration played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was an appropriate tune.

Just ask one of the 12 homeowners who benefited from the month-long “Neighborhood: New Orleans” rebuilding project. In their book, the 500-plus volunteers from 10 different faith-based organizations who took part in the effort were heaven-sent.

“Unbelievable, just unbelievable,” said Gloria Mouton, whose nearly completed home was dedicated as part of the culminating event on May 13. “There are so many people who have put in so much work and time on this project. It’s just a beautiful thing.”

Minutes earlier, Mouton was formally presented with the keys to the house by Church World Service executive director/CEO John McCullough. McCullough and Mouton together cut a purple ribbon stretched across the home’s driveway.

On Tuesday night (May 19) the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster honored the United Church of Christ and Church World Service for their work on the project as the most innovative disaster response program of the year.

“We’re here because of our faith and our values,” McCullough said to a crowd of volunteers and visitors in front of the house. “That’s what this is all about. It’s something that stirs deep in the soul of each and every one of us, that we are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

McCullough called the project, which began on April 20, “unprecedented” in its ecumenical scope. Ten denominations participated, drawing volunteers from 27 states and Canada to work on homes in the city’s Little Woods community, flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but largely ignored in the recovery effort until now.

Church World Service staff expressed hopes that the effort would draw attention to the neighborhood and encourage others to focus some resources there, as well. Crescent Alliance Recovery Effort (CARE), a local long-term recovery committee, suggested the neighborhood and selected the homes for assistance based on need. CARE has brought faith-based and community groups together to aid recovery work in Orleans Parish.

This latest effort in Little Woods also provided volunteers from a variety of church backgrounds a chance to connect around a common passion.

“We’ve all done wonderful things on our own, and now we’ve decided to come and do it together,” Lutheran Disaster Response director Kevin Massey said. “What we (all) believe the same is our desire and need to work together.”

The idea for the project grew out of a discussion initiated by Florence Coppolla, an executive for the United Church of Christ’s Wider Church Ministry last fall at the Domestic Roundtable sponsored by Church World Service of executives of a number of faith-based disaster response organizations.

Each participating disaster response organization was asked to provide financial assistance for the project and at least 15 volunteers for each of the four weeks of the “blitz build.” Mixed teams including members of several denominational groups worked together on the various homes, typically building out from nothing but gutted studs.

Wednesday’s event lifted up all the work that had been done, with the band leading a parade of purple-shirted volunteers on a four-block route from a park pavilion to Mouton’s home for prayer and a brief program.

It will be a few more weeks until all the final touches and inspections are completed and Gloria Mouton can move back into her home. But Mouton says she doesn’t mind waiting a little longer. After years of waiting and frustrations, she finally has hope.

“I won’t press for a date (to move in),” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I can see it’s coming now!”

Faith-based organizations participating in the build were American Baptist Churches USA National Ministries, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Reformed Church of America, United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries and The United Methodist Committee on Relief.


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