Monday, March 9, 2009

Heather Putnam's Mission Homily

Beacon of Hope

To say I was totally shocked to see the devastation in New Orleans three years after hurricane Katrina struck would be an understatement. When we arrived, we took a tour of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane from the 9th ward to the surrounding parishes. The 9th was hardest hit when the levees broke..all we could see there were slabs upon which homes once stood, a few green homes, built by Brad Pitts Make it Right Foundation and a few homes being repaired by homeowners themselves. We also toured the middle class parish of Gentilly Homes were still standing but in tremendous need of repair The polluted water rose fifteen feet and stayed for 3 weeks . On many doors we could see red Xes..that meant no one alive was still inside. These put there by the crew of rescue boat s who patrolled the area .Seeing the xes stays with you along time. Some homes were fully repaired but most were not. Many were boarded up and abandoned. The people had given up, had not received insurance money yet or couldn’t afford to rebuild as they had no place to stay while doing so Rents were sky high.
Five us were sent into this parish to work under the auspices of the Beacon Of Hope Resource Center. Founded on Valentines Day ,6months after Katrina, the purpose was to serve as a lifeline for all homeowners who seek information and resources to rebuild. Their mission is to provide a sanctuary to everyone looking for a way back home. 34,000 residents have used the services of thousands of volunteers who come to the city on a weekly basis. In one week alone, 2000 volunteers from Starbucks cleared and rebuilt a park complete with a new playground for children to enjoy.
Our first 2 days were spent finishing up a home that was to become in March a center where volunteers would stay. We painted, stained doors, scrubbed floors of paint and grime, cleared brush and overgrown vegetation and hung new blinds ( Sam’s an expert) At the end of the second day we began to move furniture in and help make it a welcoming place for new volunteers. On the third day we put in an instant garden for Raymond and Yvonne, an elderly black couple who had finally rebuilt their home but had never had a garden. A couple from Missouri helped as well They had driven down with a thousand volunteers Yvonne didn’t have enough flowers and so took Deb Rodman and myself to Lowes to pick out more. The look on her face was one of pure joyas she went from bench to bench We picked out a large holly tree and planted it in her garden-our gift from St Michaels..Her comment through tears was: I don’t need a tree to remind me of what yst Michaels has done for us!! The garden looked beautiful when done. A bright beacon of hope…as most homes surrounding hers were badly damaged and boarded up..just waiting for more volunteers like us to help them.
Our final assignment with the Beacon of Hope was to help rebuild a home of a pastor from the Assembly of God. He was in the direst of straights both monetarily and emotionally. He showed us all a video of what his home had looked like upon his arrival back It looked like a bomb had gone off..the house was standing but everything inside was totally destroyed. He was trying to clean out and rebuild alone while his wife and daughter had moved to Tennessee to stay with Relatives. He was lonely and alone.-until Beacon of Hope came along. He desperately needed to tell someone, anyone, his story. We just listened. We painted, put up paneling and helped him clear debris.Over lunch on his stoop, he told us he had been robbed of materials . 13 times This man was trying to move on but ever so slowly. He was tired, emotionally fragile and very very lonely. The Beacon of Hope is the only thing he has going for him right now. There are hundreds like him..all waiting to be helped. Many wanting to retell their story.This organization represents the very best of how volunteers can help others. My last day I worked with the crew who had been rebuilding a library in a new charter school. There was a sign hanging in the hall with a quote from Barack Obama that seems appropriate to all volunteers who come to help rebuild New Orleans. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. I am deeply grateful to have been sent to New Orleans to help make a change. St Michaels presence indeed made a difference.

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