[StBernard] (no subject)

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat Feb 17 01:33:03 EST 2007

LA parish continues Katrina recovery



CHALMETTE, La. (February 16, 2007) -
"You'll see neighborhoods with houses up and down the street, but they're
all vacant. There are only a few places where people have moved back in.
It's an eerie feeling at night; there are few lights because no one's here."


Joan Taylor is talking about St. Bernard Parish and the Chalmette area near
New Orleans. There to help out with Hurricane Katrina rebuild work by Church
of the Brethren Disaster Response, Taylor and her husband Phil are amazed by
both how far there is to go and the resiliency of those families who have

"They're continuing to demolish homes here," said Taylor, assistant project
director with her husband for the Church of the Brethren Chalmette project
site. "They'll bring in 18-wheelers, which they'll load up after they
bulldoze a home. And yet some homes are being put back together, too. The
families are still inspired to come back and rebuild."

Church of the Brethren opened the project site the week of Feb. 11 and has
volunteers scheduled for every week from now until the summer. "What we're
doing this week and what looks like for the foreseeable future is helping
those living in a (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer in their
yard," Taylor explained. "The volunteers are helping put in insulation and

The incoming Church of the Brethren volunteers get projects assigned to them
by the St. Bernard Project, the long-term recovery agency in the parish. The
agency's co-founder said they are focusing on families that may have
otherwise fallen through the cracks in the recovery process.

"We have walk-in clients who heard about us via word-of-mouth or from local
churches," said Liz McCartney, who co-founded St. Bernard Project with Zack
Rosenburg last summer. "We also are helping those who didn't qualify for
some the grant programs. So maybe they have enough money to buy supplies but
not enough to hire the labor."

The St. Bernard Project brings in volunteers to work on the homes as free
labor for those families, and also utilizes a collection of funding
agencies, including Church World Service, to help other families secure
building supplies and other recovery needs. McCartney said the project has
helped between 60 and 70 cases so far, but many more are in need.

"Seventy percent of these homes were owner occupied before Hurricane
Katrina," she explained. "It was a good and thriving community and not the
place where people needed much charity or social service. It was
disheartening to see what was once a thriving community now destroyed."

The parish had more than 65,000 residents before Katrina struck, said
McCartney, and some 18 months later, only about 7,000 residents have

McCartney, a Washington, D.C., native, said she was inspired to start the
St. Bernard Project because the families were reminiscent of her parents,
grandparents and of her childhood neighborhood. During area volunteer work
with co-founder Rosenburg last winter, the two decided to start the
long-term recovery agency and partnered with numerous national disaster
relief agencies and local social service groups. The St. Bernard Project was
up and running by August of 2006.

Since then, volunteers have poured in to help families repair homes.
McCartney said those signs of life have inspired the community. "If you work
on one house on one street, we've learned that it has a real powerful effect
on the rest of the street," she explained. "People see 'Miss Jones' doing it
and then think they can do it too. Having our volunteers go out to these
homes each day and doing quality work with care spread a lot of hope. Many
of the families feel forgotten, and the (recovery) process is demoralizing.
The volunteers spread hope."

Taylor noticed the same this week when Church of the Brethren volunteers
worked with one family. "The residents are excited. One family came out to
help the volunteers do repair work," said Taylor. "They even did a lot of
work in the evening when the volunteers weren't around. When the volunteers
went back the next day, the family had removed nails and things so the
volunteers could put up the drywall more easily."

Taylor added that volunteers are encouraged to talk to to the families when
it's possible. "We've come to get the work done, but it's very important to
talk to the families and hear their story. We tell our volunteers, 'Don't
feel like you can't take the time to sit and talk to them.'"

McCartney said the St. Bernard Project will stay open for as long as it's
needed. "We're here until we work ourselves out of a job," she laughed. Yet
more volunteers, funding and building supplies are necessary to keep the
recovery moving forward. There is plenty of comfortable space for
volunteers, too, as the agency has a partnership with the parish and is
using several county trailers to house the incoming crews.

The St. Bernard Project founders had no disaster relief or construction
experience before starting the agency, but say everything came together
because everyone is so willing to work together on a common goal.

"It's been challenging, but also very fulfilling," said McCartney. "We found
that having really good partnerships has helped us grow and meet the needs
of our clients way better than we could have done on our own."

Posted February 16, 2007 2:57 PM

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