St. Bernard Parish
At a Massachusettes news site, I ran across this
article entitled New Orleans still needs our help
~ In mid January, along with a group from the Boston College Alumni Association, I went to New Orleans as a volunteer to help in the reconstruction of homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
What we saw and experienced was far beyond our comprehension. I had expected to find small areas of unfinished homes in need of repairs. Instead, we found that the storm’s devastation is still very much in evidence today. We saw scores of people living in tents under a highway overpass. There were neighborhoods where most of the residents had not returned. There were sites where homes once stood and the only evidence left is the slab of concrete marking its location. In the community where we worked, only 20 to 25 percent of the residents have returned thus far.
Some interesting facts about this area are:
· More than 75 percent of the homes were owner occupied;
· In 2004, the unemployment rate hovered near 4 percent while the median income was $36,000;
· Families were working hard — as tradesmen, in the refinery industry and as fisherman;
· The Parish had a large community of retirees — nearly 50 percent of the population, many of whom owned their own homes and lived on fixed incomes;
· 200 people lost their lives in the St. Bernard Parish;
· 100 percent of the homes were officially “uninhabitable”;
The organization we worked with is located in the St. Bernard Parish an area outside of New Orleans encompassing a number of communities. We worked on homes in the town of Chalmette which is next to New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and is arguably one of the hardest hit communities. In the evenings after work, we had the opportunity to have dinner with different people in the community from church groups and education leaders to businessmen, doctors and people who had lost their homes. The stories were gut-wrenching as people described their challenges, their fight for survival and in many instances, personal losses. The amazing thing is, with all their losses, enduring complete financial ruin and having lost everything, not one person that we met ever asked for money or any type of donation.
But universally they asked for one thing. That we go back home and tell their story and that we not forget them. Their plight is no longer front page news and there are times we may not remember their challenge.
This is where the St. Bernard Project comes in. The seeds of the St. Bernard Project were planted in March 2006 by four volunteers who went to St. Bernard Parish to do relief work. After working with people to help them rebuild their homes for a month, they decided to establish the St. Bernard Project. This is a non-profit organization with a mission to provide people with the resources necessary to rebuild their homes. They undertook reconstruction of their first home in August of 2006. Since that time, they have completed over 90 homes and today have nearly 30 more under various stages of construction. They provide construction materials, tools and volunteers to complete their projects. A FEMA trailer cost approximately $70,000. Because all the materials are acquired with donations and all the labor is completed by volunteers and the actual homeowners, the cost for this organization to reconstruct a gutted home is approximately $10,000.00 and takes about eight weeks.
Where do such incredibly dedicated and giving people come from? There are two co-founders of the St. Bernard Project.
Liz McCartney: Liz worked for a community-based nonprofit organization in Washington, DC for the past four years. Prior to that, she taught ESL and middle school for over five years. Liz is a graduate of Boston Collegeand recently received a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction from George Washington University.
Zack Rosenberg: Zack has been a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. for the past three years. Prior to his defense work, he founded Linking Communities for Educational Success (LINK). Before law school he was the development director of Families Forward, a low-income housing and job training program in Washington, D.C. Zack grew up in Belmont and graduated from Belmont High School in 1991 where Zack’s mom still lives.
Michael DelRose works with RE/MAX First Realty of Watertown.
St. Bernard Project Accomplishments
Total Projects 115
Complete home rebuilds 100!
Current rebuild projects 33
Total Volunteers 4260
Americorps Volunteers 147
States Represented by Volunteers 52 (with DC and Puerto Rico)
Countries Represented by Volunteers 12
Here's a video of St. Bernard created a year after Katrina: