Friday, January 16, 2009

Help rebuild homes in New Orleans

As you read this, please don't forget to read my stories along the way at the end of this post, and please pray for the folks in New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast as they struggle to rebuild their homes, their communities and their lives.
This picture was taken August 29, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 53 levees failed and flood waters entered the city, filling many neighborhoods with several feet of water. Homes and businesses sat for weeks in the flood waters. Most of us watched from the comfort of our homes as thousands struggled to make their way to safety. The response from local, state and federal authorities will go down as a lesson in how government, even in free nations, can fail the citizens it should strive to care for.

Three years later the effects of the flooding are evident as you drive into New Orleans on I-10. Industrial and commercial buildings are abandoned, community churches are empty and thousands of homes and apartments sit in ruin.

December 28, 2008 – January 3, 2009 I worked to rebuild homes for the citizens of New Orleans. I was asked to go to New Orleans for a week and use the constructions skills I have to help the people of New Orleans return to their homes.

This is the home of Mrs. Holloway. She moved here and bought this house in 1989. She raised six kids here and still takes care of her 21yr old son. When the house is rebuilt she will move her 90 year old mother in with her. Her mother lost her home during the storm and needs a place to live. Mrs. Holloway used her insurance money to pay off her mortgage and live the last three years. Her resources are growing thin, yet much work remains to be done to complete the home. The house needs framing to be reinforced, plumbing and electrical must be installed, the house must be insulated, sheet rock needs to be hung and finished, new flooring needs to be laid in all areas, bath rooms need completion and the kitchen needs to be outfitted. Mrs. Holloway can pay for most of the materials and some of the tradesman needed, but much of the home will be completed by volunteer labor and donated materials. With four to six weeks of hard work and a bit of cash for materials, Mrs. Holloway could be in her home by Easter. She is a dear lady of joy and faith, each day she is trusting God to help her move back into her house.

Me, Mrs Holloway and Paul Slemons.

Mrs. Phenix, Mrs. Phillip & her son Glenn.

Mrs. Phillip and her sister Mrs. Phenix have lived in their homes side by side for over 56 years. They raised families and cared for the neighborhood all that time. They are both widowed and are dearly loved by Mrs. Phillip's son Glenn who lives in Houston. As Katrina raged, he made sure his mother and aunt were driven to Houston and a place of safety. These two sisters stayed in Houston for over one year before they could return to find their homes ruined by the flood waters which reached 7 feet in each house. Volunteers from Washington State worked hard to make sure Mrs. Phenix was in her home before Christmas. Mrs. Phillip will have to be patient a while longer as volunteer teams are harder to come by this time of year.

Me & my brother Louis cutting window trim for Mrs. Phillip's home.

Mrs. Phillip's home is in the last stages of the renovation process. All the window trim, some door trim and base molding were installed the three days we worked there. The team I was with even began the installation of new hardwood flooring in the home. Another volunteer team worked a week laying tile and it looks great in the two bathrooms. Before very long, Mrs. Phillip will be able to return to her home and that FEMA trailer will be her home no longer.

Mrs. Phillip showing my nephew Andrew the pictures of the inside
of her house after the flood.

Each person I met during the week had a story of how Katrina changed their lives.. Some left the city before and returned months later to find all they ever had was gone. A few I met had to be rescued from the roof of their homes as the water filled the neighborhoods in moments. Regardless of the story there is still much to be done in New Orleans to return folks to their homes. As of last week, there were 150,000 homes in New Orleans that need to be renovated, rebuilt or razed. Only 8,000 building permits were completed in 2008, at that rate it will take at least ten years to complete the rebuild of New Orleans and at least a generation to restore the city. As time moves further from the date of the storm, more and more folks will forget about the folks in New Orleans rebuilding their homes and communities.

The weather here in N.C. is typically wet and cold in the winter months. Construction slows until March and time is spent catching up on paper work or taking projects that are totally indoors. I have time. I am willing to return to New Orleans and help Mrs. Holloway and others rebuild their homes and neighborhoods, but I cannot do it alone.
I will commit to go one month, but I must cover my expenses as well as keep my family going in NC. I would like to raise $3000.00 to cover my expenses and keep the family fed while I go. All monies will be given to our church, The Carpenter's Shop and are tax deductible. I have heard from many folks that wish they could go but don’t have the time. I’m asking everyone who believes that “but for the grace of God, go I” to help me help the folks of New Orleans for the next month.
Last year we raised money for the Polk family after Harry’s fall. This year it’s a different need but one with just as much eternal significance. I ask you to pray, and if this is something that you feel God would have you support, our PayPal account is Just go to PayPal, click on send money and all funds will be appreciated. If my Twitter and FaceBook friends would give $10.00 each, we would more than reach the budget easily. My family and I have committed to help these people in whatever way we can, but we will need your help.

The stories along the way:

The Lady & her dog "Babe".

Thursday afternoon as we worked on hardwood flooring and trim in Mrs. Phillip's house the sun was shining bright and warm. Children were riding their bikes and neighbors were strolling through the community. A lady was walking down Law St. with her dog and I laid down my tools to cross the street and introduce myself.
Immediately she began to thank us for coming to help rebuild the homes in her neighborhood and tell her Katrina story. She and her dog babe live a few blocks away and as the storm approached she and babe crawled in the pickup truck to fight the traffic as it drove north out of New Orleans. The storm raged around the truck and she talked to God and to babe for comfort as she pressed on toward Baton Rogue. There she stayed with a cousin and watched on TV as her life long home town was covered in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. She and Babe moved in with her cousin for a year as the city sorted out the mess. After returning, she found that her home had been filled with water to the ceilings and all her belongings were ruined. She had good insurance, and with that money and a bit more form the Federal Government she is attempting to rebuild her home. Over three years after the storm she is still waiting as crews are now finished the new ceilings in her home. She hopes to be in the house completely before Mardi Gras. She and her dog Babe are thankful to be alive and even in the midst of difficult situations this fine Lady has the joy and strength to praise God for what was a beautiful warm day in New Orleans.

On my last night in New Orleans the team went into the French Quarter for dinner. It was a time of celebration as we reflected on the people we had met and the work we had completed. A walk down Bourbon St and a spin through Jackson Square took us down Decatur St. On Decatur is a cigar factory, where men of great talent are hand rolling wonderful cigars.
Percy was the counter salesman that night and met us as we entered the store. He has a broad smile and happy face, yet he is just a bit shy. He made a good sell and even gave me a cigar to smoke that evening. I sat at a table in the store with my nephew Andrew and college student Josh and we enjoyed the cigars and the company. Percy came by our table and I then asked him to tell me his Katrina Story.
"Mine was crazy", was his simple and honest reply.

"I was in the jail that flooded after the storm. We almost drowned." From his story it appears the police were attempting to get as many people off the streets as possible. Percy was arrested and charged with armed robbery and placed in the county jail to await the storm. "They realized the jail was gonna flood, we thought they were gonna leave us to drown. After some time they got us out of the jail and took us to a bridge over pass on I-10. They put guards on each end of the bridge with guns and told us to stay put or jump off the edge. It was a mess, some guys died, but it won't on the news. All the paper work was under water the computers were gone. They started to ask us who we were and began to release us and dismiss the changes. They let me go and dismissed all the charges. They also released some real bad men. I left and went to Phoenix, AZ and worked for a year. I got this job about a year ago and I like it and the manager treats me nice."

I then asked Percy about his life. He grew up in poverty and brokenness, finally ending up in Nebraska at Boys Town were he was loved and cared for. He loves New Orleans, but cautions that it is a great place to visit, but you would not want to live there. "This city is full of animals", was a statement he made more then once during our conversation. He left me with his address and phone number. He wants to show me the real New Orleans and take me to eat the best food in the city on the West Bank. When I return, Percy will be one of the first people I will call, I want that big smiling face to experience the love of Jesus.

The first day I was working in New Orleans I met Raphael in a 7th Ward neighborhood. He was young man about 35 and greeted and thanked the team for coming to NOLA to help rebuild. I asked him to tell me his Katrina story...

"My wife and I own two small houses here in the 7th ward. One was our house, the other was an investment property. After the storm we took the insurance money to rebuild the houses, but it was not enough. We had to cash in our retirement accounts to finish the two houses. We had worked hard for twenty years to have something for retirement. It is all gone, we will have to work the rest of our lives to pay off the houses and survive. If you owned anything down here, there was no help for you, no help at all. We have been back in our house for about nine months. We moved my parents into the other house so they would have a place to live, their house is gone and they did not have any insurance. The old folks in the neighborhoods need help...Thank you for coming!"


  1. Jimmy,

    Something you said this past Sunday stuck with me. You were talking about the Christians witnessing in front of a cross on Bourbon Street on New Years Eve who were preaching the truth, but they failed to see the broken person trying to find a job at the bar right behind the preachers.

    It's easy to preach at someone, harder to dig into your wallet and give them something; harder still to pour your time and energy into their lives.

    There, but for the grace of God, am I; and although it is little, I'll give what I can this payday to help you help some people you've come to care about.

    I think God is watching to see if those of us who claim to be His children really are willing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and visit those in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes. I'd hate to be counted among the goats who failed to do what Jesus told us to do.

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  7. No bother at all. Why not contact me at I'll help anyway I can.

  8. Awesome story! Very inspirational!
    God bless,
    Sorry I haven't visited in awhile.