Rebuilding New Orleans: From Homes to Entire Neighborhoods

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Editor’s Note: All week long I’ve posted stories about people and organizations that are helping to rebuild New Orleans. Posts on Monday and Tuesday looked at a California church that sends a work group to the city every winter. Wednesday was about a family that takes the trips every year. Yesterday I started a story about Project Homecoming. Today is part two of the story.

NEW ORLEANS –  Project Homecoming was born in 2007 after it became apparent that many homeowners whose homes were destroyed after Hurricane Katrian were struggling to rebuild. Elderly, disabled and the poor were especially at a disadvantage. Many had received monies to rebuild from insurance or the government, only to have those funds stolen by unscrupulous contractors.

A volunteer from California works on a the North Rampart house being rebuilt by Project Homecoming.

A number of churches in the Presbytery of South Louisiana, along with the national Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, partnered together to create Project Homecoming to help those homeowners who were disadvantaged. Since that time the group has utilized nearly 10,000 volunteers from around the country to rebuild more than 125 homes.

Now five and a half years since Katrina, the organization is re-gauging its focus, to include not only helping individual homeowners, but also entire neighborhoods.

In the fall of last year, the organization started construction on its first house without a homeowner. The more than 120-year-old house on North Rampart Street in the Lower Ninth Ward was donated by an overwhelmed owner who had inherited the property – along with blight liens, taxes, and looming construction costs.

“It was in worse than zero shape,” said Construction Manager Noelle Marinello. Twelve feet of water invaded the house when the levees broke after Katrina; a large hole in the roof from wind damage had let in five years of rain, wind, and pests.

The home on North Rampart Street that Project Homecoming is rebuilding with the help of volunteers.

Teams of volunteers have rotated in every week to clear out the once overgrown lot and completely rebuild the classic New Orleans shotgun house structure.

Public Relations and Marketing Director Vann Joines said the home will be priced to make it accessible for a low-income family, without negatively affecting home prices in the surrounding neighborhood. Low-income is defined as making 80 percent or less of the area’s median income. One report puts the city’s median income for a family of four at $66,000 a year.

The North Rampart Street house is in essence a test case for Project Homecoming, as it prepares to tackle rebuilding efforts through a city grant of $500,000 the group was awarded. The organization will be using the money to purchase 13 lots from the state, which acquired the properties in a buy-out program after the disaster. Officials plan to build 11 new homes and rehabilitate two existing homes over the next two years.

The 3-bedroom, 2-bath 1,200-square-foot homes will be energy efficient using green building materials, Joines said. The houses will be raised high enough to escape future flooding, and be able to withstand hurricane-force winds. And Project Homecoming will work with neighborhood associations to ensure that each home fits the architectural character of the community.

Each home is expected to cost between $190,000 and $200,000 to build, but will be sold for approximately $150,000. Project Homecoming officials, working in partnership with other nonprofits, will help low-income homebuyers secure mortgages of between $85,000 and $90,000, as well as “soft second” grants to cover the remaining cost.

Qualified homebuyers will also be counseled and trained in how to save money and manage finances so they can meet future mortgage, tax and maintenance responsibilities.

Executive Director Jean Marie Peacock said other “holistic” efforts to help neighborhoods Project Homecoming is undertaking include partnering with neighborhood associations and other agencies to build community gardens, clear lots, and identify blighted properties for future rehabilitation. They are working with one school to teach students about urban farming.

As volunteers preparing for a new week of work were told recently by Operations Director Kevin Krejci: “We are here for the long term to make sure that community-wide recovery happens.”

For more information about Project Homecoming and how to help, go to http://projecthomecoming.net. Or call the toll free number: (877) 942-0444.

Next: One man’s story of survival.

Project Homecoming Commits to Long-term Rebuilding of New Orleans

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Editor’s Note: This week I’m sharing stories about people and organizations who have helped New Orleans rebuild since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Monday and Tuesday we looked at a California church that sends a group of volunteers every winter. Wednesday we saw a family from that church that spends their vacation on the annual trips. Today’s post is about the organization that the church group works through, Project Homecoming.

NEW ORLEANS – More than five years after Hurricane Katrina, a number of rebuilding organizations have shuttered operations and moved on, despite the fact that this city still has nearly 50,000 blighted homes and numerous near-empty neighborhoods.

For one organization, there’s still more work to do.

Project Homecoming has helped struggling homeowners rebuild more than 125 homes since its creation in 2007 as a ministry of the Presbytery of South Louisiana and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). As efforts to rebuild New Orleans continue and needs shift, Project Homecoming is going through a sort of rebirth, as it transitions to its own 501c3 nonprofit by the end of this year.

Volunteers from a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania strip paint on a Project Homecoming work site in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“There’s a lot of faith-based groups that have left New Orleans; Presbyterians are some of the ones that remain because of PDA’s planning for a long-term commitment,” said Executive Director Jean Marie Peacock. “We’re thankful for the financial support they provided and the partnership that initiated Project Homecoming’s commitment to the long-term recovery in New Orleans.”

The PDA is now transitioning out of the Gulf, after more than five years of helping to rebuild communities in states all along the coast. It closed the last of its volunteer villages recently, but it remains involved in rebuilding efforts through a $500,000 grant it awarded to Project Homecoming for 2011.

Knowing that PDA would wind down efforts one day, Project Homecoming took steps toward continuing in New Orleans. One of the steps: seeking and winning a $500,000 grant from the city and acquiring a contractor’s license to tackle major blight through building and selling new homes to low-income families.

“It’s really an extension of what we have been doing with hurricane recovery,” Peacock said. “We’ll still continue to work with individuals, but we’re now branching into recovery work of neighborhoods.”

At the time Project Homecoming came together as a partnership of South Louisiana churches, the focus was on helping low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners lacking enough funds to rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many of its clients were previously taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors, leaving them unable to finance further reconstruction.

Then and now, Project Homecoming case managers help clients navigate the rebuilding process, while construction and onsite managers marshal teams of volunteers to do construction on the homes at about a third of the cost of using contractors. Volunteers do everything minus plumbing, electrical, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems; the organization hires trusted licensed professionals for that work.

Most of the nearly 10,000 volunteers who have worked through Project Homecoming over the years have come from Presbyterian churches all over the country. Director of Public Relations and Marketing Vann Joines said 2010 was the organization’s biggest volunteer year ever; they experienced a 15 percent increase in volunteers over 2009.

Tomorrow: How Project Homecoming will help revitalize neighborhoods through building new homes for low-income families.

Family Spends Annual Vacations in New Orleans – Volunteering

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Editor’s Note: This week I’m featuring stories about people and organizations that are still working to rebuild New Orleans more than five years after Hurricane Katrina. See the entries from Monday and Tuesday, which detailed how a congregation from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Pacifica, CA., has made a commitment to help rebuild New Orleans through annual work trips. Today is the story of one family from that church.

NEW ORLEANS – Berni Schuhmann’s family comes to this city every single winter, but they aren’t sightseeing or living it up at Mardi Gras. This family rolls up their sleeves to work.

Schuhmann, her two grown children, Aron and Gillian, her sister Taryn, and her sister’s boyfriend, Dave Bier, make the annual trek to New Orleans to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

From left to right: Berni Schuhmann, her sister Taryn Tewksbury, Taryn's boyfriend, Dave Bier, Berni's son Aron, and daughter Gillian Parkhurst. The family is standing in front of the home in New Orleans they worked on as volunteers in February, 2011.

The tradition started four years ago in 2007 when Schuhmann traveled with her church, St. Andrew Presbyterian of Pacifica, CA., to Louisiana for a mission trip with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The trip left a deep impression on Schuhmann and her fellow church members, who all agreed they needed to return the following year. They also agreed they needed to invite others to come help. Schuhmann asked her family.

Her sister, Taryn Tewksbury of Tuscon, AZ., said Schuhmann was clearly passionate in her desire to return the next year to help rebuild in New Orleans.

“You don’t say no to her,” Tewksbury joked. “She’s little but she runs everything.”

Schuhmann was successful in convincing Tewksbury, son Aron, and daughter Gillian Parkhurst to come the following year. Both Schuhmann and Parkhurst are teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area; they give up winter recess for the work trips. The family has come every winter since, except Aron who missed last year due to business.

Schuhmann’s husband, Scott, has not been on the trips due to his work schedule in college athletics, she said. He cheers the rest of the family on: one Christmas he gave his wife and kids their own sets of coveralls to wear on the work trips. They were thrilled to receive them.

Aron Schuhmann said for him the trips are a way to connect with his family, since he lives in Southern California working in online advertising. It’s his only vacation of the year.

“It’s a good opportunity to spend a lot of time together,” he said.

Last month marked the family’s fourth trip to New Orleans together. They celebrated Aron’s 27th birthday during the week working on a home in the Lower Ninth Ward being rebuilt by the organization, Project Homecoming.

Tewskbury said she was a little scared before her first trip to New Orleans, because she didn’t know what to expect.

“Immediately when we got here the first year we were shocked at how much needed to be done,” she said. The rebuilding work and getting to know the homeowner of the house they were working on proved to be meaningful experience, however. And since that first trip she said the family and their fellow volunteers from St. Andrew, “totally fell in love with New Orleans.”

Tewksbury found another love in New Orleans on one of the work trips: her boyfriend Dave Bier. He had come from Pacifica with the church; Tewksbury came from Tuscon. They fell in love and managed a long-distance relationship, until Bier moved to Arizona.

Tomorrow: Project Homecoming commits to long-term recovery of New Orleans.

 

California Church Opens Arms to New Orleans – and New Friends

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Editor’s Note: Yesterday I started a multi-part series based on my visit to New Orleans last month to see rebuilding efforts more than five years after Hurricane Katrina. I profiled St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Pacifica, CA., which sends a work group down every winter to help rebuilding efforts through a group called Project Homecoming. Today I continue the profile, highlighting how by reaching out to New Orleans, church members are reaching out to new friends in their own local area.

NEW ORLEANS – When members of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Pacifica, CA., started heading to the Gulf Coast every winter to help rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina, they were so passionate about their visits, that passion became infectious.

Subcontractor Paul Wayne handles a door that Pastoral Associate Ellen Rankin, of Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, is about to paint.

Five years after the annual trips started, the work groups that go down include friends, family, people from other churches and faiths – even people who don’t go to church. And even those who can’t come with the work groups participate by either donating to the cause, or getting involved in other charities in the San Francisco Bay Area where they are located.

“It’s nice St. Andrew collects people and brings them along,” said Ann Mason on last month’s trip. She attends the Unitarian Universalists Church in San Mateo. After talking up the New Orleans trips at her own church, the congregation is sending a youth group to work here in June.

Pacfica drywall subcontractor Paul Wayne has come back multiple times after hearing about the trips from a St. Andrew member at a party. He’s Jewish, but he said it makes no matter. He enjoys working with his St. Andrew friends year after year.

Wayne is one of many Bay Area contractors who now spend their annual vacations with the St. Andrew church group. He and another contractor on last month’s trip, Mark Huff, who attends Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, said they recognized on their first visits how needed skilled workers were in New Orleans.

In addition to having collected a loyal band of contractors, the church group has found friends and co-workers who can’t go on the trips, but gladly donate money to make the annual trips a reality, or to directly help out those in need in New Orleans.

In fact, two elementary school teachers who go on the trips during winter break raise money from their students at Peninsula schools.

Diane Goldman said she started collecting “Change for Change” from her school in Menlo Park. This year students and parents donated $700; Goldman chipped in some to purchase an $850 Home Depot card that she brought with her to give away to a family helped by Project Homecoming.

Fifth grade teacher Gillian Parkhurst from Menlo Park took a cue from Goldman and did her own spare change drive with students. She found a fifth grade class in New Orleans that her students became pen pals with, and have even spoken with on Skype. She was able to visit the New Orleans pen pals during the February work trip.

Reaching out and becoming more connected to the people of New Orleans has inspired the St. Andrew congregation to become more connected to its own community along the way, church members said.

One of the trip organizers, Half Moon Bay resident Berni Schuhmann, said she believes St. Andrew is more of a “doing church” in the Pacifica area since the trips started. She and fellow trip leader Lisa Angelot said church members who can’t make the annual trek are getting involved in local efforts such as Rebuilding Together and Relay for Life.

“It’s been really good for our church…this mission stuff, it just seems to open the door to more,” said Angelot.

Tomorrow: Annual New Orleans work trips are a family affair.


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Five Years Out From Another Major Disaster: Good Neighbors Still at Work in New Orleans

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Editor’s Note: Last month I spent several days in New Orleans and got to see some of the on-going rebuilding efforts more than five years after Hurricane Katrina. Each day this week I’m featuring stories of  people and organizations that are working together to help restore homes and lives. After the massive destruction in Japan last week, these stories point to the need for long-term commitments to help damaged regions rebuild, and give hope to the people there.

Volunteers from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Pacifica, CA. strip paint for a home being reconstructed in the Lower Ninth Ward

NEW ORLEANS – As the crisis in Japan unfolds and it becomes apparent that recovery will require long-term, international help, one San Francisco Bay Area church knows what it’s like to adopt a people far away and commit to helping rebuild after a disaster.

In 2005, Pacfica, CA., resident and St. Andrew Presbyterian Church member Lisa Angelot was so moved by television images of the destruction in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, she was there within 10 weeks to volunteer. She gutted out flood-damaged homes with a group from Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church.

She came back to her church family at St. Andrew filled with stories about the massive needs on the Gulf Coast after suffering through Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The 200-member Pacifica congregation was inspired to send a group to the region as volunteers with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The church group made its first trip in the winter of 2007 to Houma, LA. A field trip to New Orleans that week got them thinking about returning in 2008 to help there. The church has sponsored a group every year to New Orleans since, working in conjunction with a Presbyterian organization called Project Homecoming.

I happened to be in New Orleans at the start of the church’s fourth work trip, and got to tag along as more than 20 Bay Area volunteers worked at a few different locations in the city.

During a break at a house in the Lower Ninth Ward where part of the group had been hard at work with saws, drills and paint scrapers, we heard birds singing in the trees, which prompted Angelot to remember that on her first trip to New Orleans, there were no birds.

“All you heard were helicopters,” she said. There was destruction everywhere, no residents, just volunteers gutting houses and National Guardsmen patrolling the neighborhoods.

Five and a half years later, she said it’s heartening to see how far the city has come, but sobering to realize how far the city still needs to go. Officials estimate that nearly 50,000 housing units out of 200,000 are blighted. It’s not unusual to see entire neighborhoods still wiped out, or blocks with only one house reoccupied.

The fact that there is so much left to do – some estimates say it will take another five to 10 years to repair the hurricane and flood damage – keeps the Pacfica church group coming back year after year.

Along the way the church members have fallen in love with the city and its people.

“Our people have just been captivated by individual stories…and the story of the city,” said Pastor Penny Newall. “It’s been more than just going down and working for a week. It’s been a connection and a passion that is much deeper for many of the people who have gone.”

Tomorrow: How members of the St. Andrew work team have brought others along with them to help in New Orleans.


St. Andrew member Berni Schuhmann holds up a mini-King Cake she bought at lunchtime, during a break from working on a house in New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward. Schuhmann's daughter Gillian Parkhurst looks on.


Remembering Katrina – From Afar (Part 2 of 2)

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Despite living more than 1,000 miles away from the Gulf Coast, I feel linked to that region. There was something about Hurricane Katrina and the events that followed that gripped me and pulled me in. Since then, I have visited the Gulf Coast twice – once to Mississippi, and once to New Orleans. My son, Alex, now lives there, working the last two years to help rebuild homes, first through the Presbyterian Church (USA), and now through Americorps (although still with a PCUSA-sponsored organization, Project Homecoming).

In Part 1 I wrote about my memories of the storm itself, and my trip to Mississippi in 2006. Today is about my family’s trip to New Orleans in 2009.

When I left Mississippi at the end of a one-week service trip in August, 2006, I had those fleeting, crazy, “what if?” kinds of thoughts about how to remain so I could help with the rebuilding efforts.  Or maybe I could come back? But after a few weeks of initial restlessness upon my return home, the reality of day-to-day life set in and I set those “what if” ideas aside.  I did not forget the people of the Gulf Coast, however.

Within two years, the region would be once again front and center in my life. It turns out our son Alex had been deeply affected by the storm coverage, as well. Though still in college, he had an idea that one day he would move there to help rebuilding efforts. He graduated in June, 2008, and two months later he was headed for New Orleans as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

It turned out he was headed right into Hurricane Gustav. He arrived in New Orleans just in time to be evacuated out of the city. Fortunately, Gustav did not pack the same punch as Katrina three years previously.

Since that time, Alex has personally overseen the rebuilding of 7 homes, working with more than 1,000 volunteers in the process.

We visited Alex in March, 2009, to see first-hand the work he had been doing. On our first full day he took us on the tour he has taken many volunteers on through the city, pointing out places affected by the storm and flooding. As we headed over the Industrial Canal on the Claiborne Avenue Bridge, Alex told us to look to the right of the bridge. We saw neighborhoods just on the other side of the canal. Then at just the right moment, Alex said, “Look to the left.”

Turning our heads, we saw what looked like a wasteland. It was what was left of The Lower Ninth Ward. There were specks of life here and there, but mostly there were hundreds of empty lots, with only sets of concrete steps marking where homes once stood. I thought back to two years earlier, when I first saw the devastation first-hand in Mississippi.

As Alex drove us around he explained how the disaster had unfolded. He detailed the environmental degradation and human errors that had contributed to the tragic events, how residents nearly lost the ability to return and rebuild to the neighborhood due to political maneuvering and greed, and how insurance companies had stacked the deck against people collecting monies. He also talked about how residents were being thwarted from returning to the city either through governmental rules or lack of resources.

I felt my anger from three years earlier returning. While remembering the shock I felt watching the calamity on TV in 2005, I was taken aback that residents were still lacking the help they needed to rebuild and return. I was very quiet through the rest of the tour.

On Monday morning we found ourselves in a church fellowship hall with about 100 other volunteers from all over the country for an orientation. Afterwards we were divided into teams for each home rebuilding site. Our family headed to the site Alex was supervising. For the next few days we painted, caulked, laid floor tiles and helped with general clean up. At night Alex took us to more sites around the city, making sure we experienced the classics of New Orleans’ cuisine, music and culture.

By the end of the week, I was in love with the city and its people. We got to talk with the homeowners of the house we were rebuilding. We spoke to other natives of the city and region. We got to see parades, outdoor markets, classic old neighborhoods, and local nature. From our experiences it seemed that this was a place that celebrated life with gusto in the face of death.

The anger I had felt just a few days before was not gone, but I realized that the anecdote to that anger was turning that anger into action, like the rebuilding efforts. These efforts were not just rebuilding physical buildings, they were – and are – rebuilding people’s lives. And throughout the rebuilding, we can, and should, embrace and celebrate life, just as generations of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents have done.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina there is still more left to accomplish. Organizations like Project Homecoming are helping uninsured, under-insured, disabled and elderly homeowners rebuild their homes, even five years later. It very well could be another five years before the remaining homes are rebuilt. With the BP oil spill, the region is hit with new woes, making help all the more imperative.

There is no easy ending to this story. No quick fix to New Orlean’s problems, which are extremely complicated. But we as a nation should not give up on New Orleans, or the rest of the Gulf Coast region.

You can help! Go to http://www.phroadtrip.blogspot.com/ and donate money for Project Homecoming. This organization has rebuilt more than 120 homes in New Orleans utilizing labor from more than 8,000 volunteers from all over the country and world. There is still lots more to do, however. Money and volunteers are still needed.

If you live in the Silicon Valley, you can also help this Sunday, August 29, by eating at Roux Louisiana Kitchen, on Santana Row, in San Jose. A portion of the restaurant’s profits that day will go to Project Homecoming.

Remembering Katrina – From Afar (Part 1 of 2)

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Despite living more than 1,000 miles away from the Gulf Coast, I feel linked to that region. There was something about Hurricane Katrina and the events that followed that gripped me and pulled me in. Since then, I have visited the Gulf Coast twice – once to Mississippi, and once to New Orleans. My son, Alex, now lives there, working the last two years to help rebuild homes, first through the Presbyterian Church (USA), and now through Americorps (although still with a PCUSA-sponsored organization). Sunday, August 29, is the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

The week Katrina swirled its way through the Gulf, slamming into the coast and leaving unbelievable destruction in its wake, I was serving jury duty here in the Silicon Valley. The case was particularly gut-wrenching, involving a 32-year-old man who, in a drunken stupor,  had molested his 13-year-old female cousin and then, after sobering up, threatened to kill her if she told anyone. We eventually voted to convict the man of all charges. When I wasn’t in court, I was in front of the TV switching between news channels. It was an extremely emotional couple of weeks as I experienced intense drama almost every waking moment of every day either in court or through the TV. One day in court as we listened to a litany of what had gone wrong in the family – alcoholism, drug addiction, absentee parents, etc. – I thought, “This is this family’s Hurricane Katrina.”

As I watched the story of the aftermath of the storm day after day, I found myself yelling at the TV in frustration, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything?!” I was watching the moment Anderson Cooper took Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to task for thanking a long list of politicians who were – finally – taking action. As if speaking for all of us, Cooper said, “Excuse me senator…for the last four days I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets of Mississippi, and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, I’ve got to tell you there are a lot of people here who are very angry and very frustrated, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now.”

Katrina was – like 9/11 before it – a surreal moment in U.S. history. How, I kept asking, how, in one of the supposedly most advanced countries in the world are we letting people suffer and die? On TV? It wasn’t like we didn’t know what was going on. It was unfolding in real time in front of us. Days went by with people sitting on rooftops, as precious time ticked by and nothing seemed to be happening. Five years later, and I still can’t believe it happened. This week NBC news anchor Brian Williams told Jon Stewart in an interview on The Daily Show, “I can’t believe this was allowed to happen to our citizens.”

In August, 2006 11 months after Katrina hit, I found myself in Long Beach, MS., supporting my church’s youth mission trip. Another mom and I bought and prepared food daily for nearly 100 youth and adults. As we walked down aisles in Sam’s Club and Winn-Dixie, residents – realizing we weren’t from around there – would stop us to ask us questions. When we told them why we were visiting, they would thank us for coming to help. Some told us they felt as if the government and the rest of the country had abandoned them.

It was a sobering trip. As we drove to and from Long Beach, we would pass miles and miles of devastated neighborhoods and commercial areas. It looked, as the saying goes, like a bomb, or rather multiple bombs, had gone off. Down one stretch of Highway 90, we could see a hotel still standing, with all it’s windows blown out of one side. You could still see the beds and furniture sitting there, exposed to the elements. We saw an odd-shaped skeleton of a building, not knowing what it was all week, later learning it had been Gulfport’s aquarium. In another area, the hollow shell of St. Thomas’ Catholic Church stood across the street from the beach. In the neighborhood where our group was staying, we drove up through several blocks of properties that had experienced a 30-foot storm surge. The homes and businesses were swept away, along with some of the residents who would not or could not leave. The local elementary school had an eerie feel to it; the school doors were open, and you could see all the children’s backpacks and jackets in the hallways. We were cautioned not to go inside because of the toxic mold that had overtaken the structure.

While the devastation was staggering to look at, we saw many positive things happening in and around Long Beach. Everywhere we went, we saw hundreds of volunteers working with numerous organizations there to rebuild. Most of the organizations were churches and faith-based groups. One of the underreported stories of that time was the large number of church volunteers who helped rebuild and heal residents’ lives. Everywhere we turned, there was another church van, or a truck from a faith-based organization, full of volunteers or building supplies. One inspiring place was God’s Katrina Kitchen, started by a church days after the storm hit. The kitchen was actually a large circus tent, where volunteers were fed each day. In back was a volunteer camp, with people staying there from all over North America. Not all of them were believers; many were non-believers who just wanted to help. The kitchen was open to anyone, including local residents and homeless people who were hungry and needed the meals.

At the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave. There was so much left to be done. ‘We have life so easy back at home,’ I thought, ‘Help is needed much more here.’ I felt uneasy, and even depressed, for three weeks after returning to California, which, I learned, was a common reaction among Gulf Coast volunteers. What I didn’t know then, was that I would return to the region in just a few years.

Inside St. Thomas'

Coming in Part 2: We visit New Orleans; work still needs to be done

You can help! Go to http://www.phroadtrip.blogspot.com/ and donate money for Project Homecoming. This organization has rebuilt more than 120 homes in New Orleans utilizing labor from more than 8,000 volunteers from all over the country and world. There is still lots more to do, however. Money and volunteers are still needed.

If you live in the Silicon Valley, you can also help this Sunday, August 29, by eating at Roux Louisiana Kitchen, on Santana Row, in San Jose. A portion of the restaurant’s profits that day will go to Project Homecoming.