Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Morning. I was on the Rebuild project with George Thomas, Lorraine Dee, and Jim Sasso. The rebuild program began as a volunteer house gutting operation by the Episcopal diocese of LA. In 2007, the rebuild phase was launched and so far 60 homes for families have been rebuilt. All work except electrical and plumbing is done by volunteers. Work includes insulation, sheet rocking, painting, flooring, and installing trim and cabinets.

We were assigned a house in the Gentilly section of New Orleans. It was owned by a family of 6 who were displaced to Little Rock Arkansas. The father died from cancer while in Little Rock so 5 will be returning to the house. From the stories we heard, health care costs made it impossible for them to return to their home. Eventually, a social worker brought their case to the rebuild program. We also heard there may have been some contractor fraud with this house which was (and is) quite common.

I didn’t know what to expect arriving at our site. Water was at the 10 ft. mark in this neighborhood and the yellow mark above the door and windows still remains on the house. I would say that about 50% of the homes in the area have been rebuilt. This particular house was nearing completion. George and Jim were assigned the light carpentry work while Lorraine and I were the painters. Building closets were the priority for the week.

Two supervisors were at our site. They were just out of college and they had been there for about a year. The program is currently working on 15 houses and has 20 supervisors. At the end of the program, we met with Liz who is one of the managers of the program. She told us how funding has been cut back for this year and there are great concerns about funding going forward. They did receive a grant from the state which will allow them to finish the homes started (about 15) and do a few additional homes. The name of the organization has actually changed from “disaster response” to Episcopal Community Services”. As she said…“How long can a disaster response be?” I look at the neighborhoods and I wonder if the remaining people will ever come back to their homes? How many people want to come back but can’t due to financial issues? What will happen to these gutted out homes? Will the govt. eventually take them over?

All these questions went thru my mind as I was painting but now I think a lot about what Liz talked about….FUTURE FUNDING. She’s worried because she just knows there are more families that want to come back but can’t due to financial constraints. Although it has been 5 years, there is just so much more work that needs to be done. I also hope and pray that the funding continues….. ECS is really doing some good work!!

For myself, I got to know Lorraine, George, and Jim at a much deeper level and I’m grateful for that. We were together every day! I’ve never met such a meticulous person with the paint brush as Lorraine. I’m also grateful for the chance to help restore one house for one family so that they may finally come home. Thank you St. Michael’s for your support to make this happen.

John Ahonen

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