Friday, July 06, 2007

EDOLA Gutting and Rebuild Update

Tomorrow, I shall whine about the Hartford Courant and the National Hurricane Service, but for today, here's an update from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's gutting and rebuilding program (the folks I lived with for three months last year and volunteered for this past Spring Break). Got it in my e-mail Wednesday. Please read, it's important stuff.

4 July 2007

Hello there,

It’s Katie Mears in New Orleans with an update. Thanks to you all, our gutting program has been incredibly successful. We’ve already gutted over 850 houses and are beginning the next phase: rebuilding. As the need for gutting winds down, we're calling folks whose houses we have gutted over the past year and asking if we can help them put their houses back together now. We have already completed rebuilding seven houses since March and will be finished with several more in the coming weeks.

To give you an idea of the kinds of houses we’re working on, I’d like to tell you about a homeowner whose house we’re finishing this week. Ms. Cora is an older lady who lived with her son in a little house in Pontchartrain Park. Her son was evacuated to Boston after Katrina and has been unable to return. Ms. Cora, who has never left the state, hasn't seen him in nearly two years. She's been living in a FEMA trailer in her front yard since January, when she returned to New Orleans from a trailer park in rural Louisiana.

When I first called Ms. Cora in March, I had to convince her to let us help. She doesn’t want to receive charity because she believes that others need it more. She told me she'd been praying for her Road Home federal grant to come through so she could rebuild, but that she was making herself sick with worry about how she would ever be able to manage it all. We decided that you never can tell what form God's help will take, and that this offer might be her answer.

So we started working. We first hired reputable subcontractors – electricians, plumbers and mold remediators – then we sent in our interns and volunteers to insulate, put up sheetrock, paint, lay tile, and install trim, doors, and windows. The Episcopal Diocese paid for the materials and the subcontractors, and Ms. Cora controlled the process, choosing paint, tile colors, light fixtures, everything. Because Ms. Cora is still waiting for her Road Home money, she doesn’t have much of anything to contribute right now. But she and all of our other homeowners agree to pay us back when their Road Home money arrives.

We have created a system that allows our families to take charge of their own recovery—by making decisions about the house and by paying us back, they are not simply receiving charity. The money homeowners repay us goes to helping more homeowners pay for subcontracting as those families wait for Road Home. The problem is that Road Home money has been incredibly slow to arrive. We’re all getting worried about how long it might take, and our Episcopal Relief and Development grant money will only go so far.

I'm writing for two reasons: to let you know how things are progressing, but also to ask for your help. We continue to have large groups of energetic volunteers – over 100 per week – and have 27 trained interns working around the clock. We aren’t limited by how much work we can do, but are limited by how much work we can pay for.

Ms. Cora will be ready to move into her house next week, and we’re already getting started on the next houses. But we’re at a financial impasse. Our work cannot continue without you. Your generosity and dedication to this city have gotten our program this far – please help us take this next big step and bring New Orleans homeowners back home.

To donate, you can mail checks made out to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana with "gutting/rebuild" in the memo line to:

Gutting and Rebuild
Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana
1623 7th St.
New Orleans, LA 70115

Or you can donate online. Go to and click on the “Katrina Relief fund” link on the right side of the page.

Thanks so much for your time down here and your financial support. My thoughts and prayers go out to you all. I am happy to answer any questions you may have – just give me a call at 504-258-9441. Please forward this note to anyone else who might be willing to help.

If you have any creative fundraising ideas that have worked in the past, please let me know.

Thanks so much for everything and have a happy 4th of July,

Katie Mears

(504) 258-9441

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