[StBernard] Working tourists

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jul 7 19:53:10 EDT 2008

So true! Thanks to all the volunteers who help restore our lives. I will never forget the churches that gave from their heart; remember the food tent at Walmart where they would not only give you free food, but bring it to your car and give you a hug! God bless them one and all. MsSimms

> -----------------------------------------------------
> Working tourists
> Travelers from around the world come to help rebuild New Orleans
> By Kristin Butler, Staff Writer
> Comment on this story
> ST. BERNARD PARISH, La. - The French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Preservation Hall:
> New Orleans once counted on these landmarks to draw a crowd. But in the
> three years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the Big Easy's
> unending blocks of flood-devastated homes have attracted a very different
> sort of visitor.
> More than 1.1 million "voluntourists" have responded to the region's call to
> service, contributing 4.5 million hours of help since late 2005, according
> to Mayor Ray Nagin. Although these good Samaritans hail from across the
> globe, they share a common purpose: They're eager to help Katrina victims
> rebuild their lives, and they're willing to get their hands dirty in the
> process.
> Just this year, voluntourists have gutted houses, landscaped parks, painted
> playgrounds and rebuilt community centers. The American Library Association
> restored local libraries during its annual conference in 2006, while groups
> of visiting physicians have donated their time to the city's free clinics.
> No matter how people get here -- whether through their church, their
> college, a professional association or simply on their own -- there is a job
> for every willing worker and the need could not be greater.
> A trip through St. Bernard Parish, once a middle-class suburb of 67,229 just
> outside New Orleans, reveals row after row of burned-out, half-collapsed
> buildings that wouldn't look out of place in war-torn Bosnia. Some have been
> overtaken by tall grass, while others have been reduced to a slab
> foundation. Virtually the entire parish was submerged under 5 to 12 feet of
> water, with only five homes spared.
> On one lot, a homeowner has spray-painted "Goodbye oil' friend" on a shed,
> along with a plea: "Do demolish." On another, a brave soul has parked a FEMA
> trailer atop the slab that used to support his home. He is the only person
> still living on this street, which once had 30 or 40 homes.
> The people who live in these neighborhoods say they feel betrayed and
> forgotten by their government, which has yet to restore basic sewage and
> fire services to much of the parish. (Vacuum trucks run 24/7 to transport
> human waste to the sewage treatment plant.)
> Strong backs and greenbacks
> But Wayne Warner, longtime principal of Chalmette High School in St. Bernard
> Parish, says the tireless efforts of volunteers from across America have
> restored his faith in his country -- and his countrymen.
> Recalling the volunteers who gutted his home, Warner spoke of a man who
> broke down in tears one afternoon. Sitting on a nearby curb, the man
> wondered aloud, "There are so many houses like this left to do. What
> difference can I make?"
> His voice quavering with emotion, Warner recalled his reply: "Well, it makes
> huge difference to me."
> So say many New Orleanians. Locals feel doubly blessed by these out-of-state
> visitors, who inject welcome dollars into the regional economy even as they
> provide a desperately needed source of free labor. As the Rev. David Crosby
> of First Baptist Church noted, the floodwaters were followed by a "second
> surge of labor and goods. ... We need that surge to continue because we just
> don't have enough builders and tradesmen in New Orleans to get the job
> done."
> Both Warner and Crosby emphasized again and again that locals are not lazy,
> and they want America to know that they are proud people trying to regain
> their independence. More than that, they don't want to be forgotten.
> The depth of residents' gratitude was on display in the French Quarter on
> June 22 when two city natives stopped to thank a group of young men -- their
> telltale matching orange shirts tagging them as volunteers -- eating
> beignets at Cafe du Monde. A waitress reported these thank yous have become
> commonplace among appreciative diners.
> Barriers to rebuilding
> And yet the reconstruction crawls along.
> Zack Rosenburg, a former Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyer who left
> his practice to start the St. Bernard Project in August 2006, explained that
> one reason homeowners have been so slow to rebuild is the scarcity of
> building materials and skilled labor in southern Louisiana.
> As a volunteer-based organization, the St. Bernard Project can gut and
> rebuild a home in eight to 12 weeks for about $15,000, Rosenburg said, but
> most private contractors are charging at least $100,000 to do the same work
> -- a nearly 100 percent markup from the $53,000 it costs them to do the job
> even with well-paid union workers.
> So for the vast majority of homeowners who can't afford that steep price
> tag, volunteers are the last, best hope.
> These organizations rely on volunteers of all ages and skill levels to pitch
> in, and although the St. Bernard Project employs professional plumbers,
> electricians and cabinet hangers, Rosenburg said unskilled workers remain in
> high demand. For starters, volunteers can hang sheetrock, refinish floors,
> plant flowers or paint playground equipment, and there is a job for every
> skill and interest, said Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans Convention and
> Visitors Bureau.
> Still, flexibility and a sense of humor are appreciated by the volunteer
> coordinators.
> Rosenburg said the voluntourists working with his organization typically
> stay for seven days, and many combine sightseeing (not to mention the
> occasional night out) with their good works. Still, Rosenburg said 80
> percent of St. Bernard Project volunteers said the primary purpose of their
> trip was to volunteer.
> And whatever your motivation, New Orleans wants you to come visit.
> As Leah Chase, legendary Creole chef and co-founder of the landmark
> restaurant Dooky Chase in the Lower Ninth Ward, put it, "If you come here,
> you don't have to hammer a nail or tighten a screw. Just come to our city to
> give us the push that we need."
> kristin.butler at newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4633

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