Ten Years of Service

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This year, NOAHH has been recognizing certain volunteers who have served our community year after year, some for as many as ten years in a row. These volunteers have shown through their commitment a love of New Orleans that is the cornerstone of our city’s resilience and recovery, and over the last ten years, they have built over 450 homes for hard working New Orleanians. These groups have been part of every major project NOAHH has undertaken, from the early days of Musicians’ Village to the Citywide Day of Service this year. They have been part of every new program at NOAHH, from A Brush With Kindness to the new Covenant House rentals, from Attack the Block to Habitat Urban Gardens. They have spent time with partner families, staff, and other volunteers, forming bonds that last beyond the length of their visits, and they have borne witness over the last ten years to the revitalization of our city.

“When we first started volunteering in NOLA the quantity of dilapidated homes, empty schools and closed businesses was overwhelming,” said James Potts of Crossroads Cincinnati. “However, with each passing year, we’ve witnessed significant progress and it’s getting more difficult to see the direct impact of the Hurricane.”

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Crossroads Cincinnati is one of two groups from Cincinnati (the other being Give Back Beyond Cincinnati) that independently volunteer in the late summer every year. These two groups have always been reliable volunteers during our slowest months, braving the heat and humidity. Like many groups, they return around the same time every year. Every year, the Dirty Dozen returns in December, and every year, spring break brings thousands of student volunteers.

“On the one hand, it’s been great to so many brightly colored houses pop up all over the city,” said Sabrina Tanbara, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Juilliard. “When we have passed a house we have worked on and see flowers in the front and children’s toys that showed the house is lived in and loved, it gives us a great feeling of accomplishment and love. On the flip side, it’s heartbreaking to see houses and whole streets that haven’t been touched since Katrina. One student questioned why we were there and another student replied ‘to make change for the better one paint stroke, one nail, one 2×4 at a time. If what we do helps one family, that’s still a good thing.'”

Other groups have a larger presence. Local universities Loyola, Tulane, Xavier, Dillard, and LSU all regularly have students on site, and RHINO is one of the most consistent volunteer partners NOAHH has.

“It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since Katrina,” said Diana Likely of RHINO, “and harder still to believe that RHINO is still going strong and that our group from St. Louis has continued to send a team each year. In many ways the tenth year is the culmination of my volunteer experience with RHINO.”

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“Our groups from InterVarsity Boston University were on the first house foundation at Musicians’ Village,” said Tom Brink. “It was amazing over the years to see that project completed, and now it looks like home for many. Musicians’ Village certainly was a grand experience, seeing so many houses in a quick amount of time. A whole community built, yet each house has a story.”

Perhaps the group that has volunteered most often is the Marines. Stationed locally, they have made it a point to work in the community and give back. Their impact cannot be overstated, and though numbers alone won’t suffice, it bears noting that in the last three years alone, over 640 Marines have volunteered, including several who have become core volunteers, returning month after month.

“On the military side many of us will work all day and not see the impact that we make until months or years down the road,” said Captain Sam Baumer. “Being able to make an immediate impact and an immediate difference has evolved in to many of the Marine Volunteers becoming Core Volunteers… When we started all that we had in mind was that we wanted to get out in to our community and make a positive impact, make a difference. What we have found is that for a large portion of us, Habitat has made a positive impact on us. Habitat is an outlet for many of the Marines and Sailors because it gets us out in the community, out doors, swinging a hammer, and using a paint brush. We can start a project and at the end of the day see a difference, see a change that we have been able to make.”

The need to give back locally has driven so many to volunteer, but after the storm, thousands came to the city from around the world to help out. For years, the damage from the storm and the resultant need for volunteers was enough to bring uncountable numbers of volunteers to the city. Eventually, however, some groups went to help after newer disasters. Some focused on efforts in their own communities. But some returned again and again, finding other reasons to volunteer beside the immediate needs of the city.

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“For me, and likely most of our community, the initial draw was definitely running to those in need of help,” said Potts. “As the city began recovering and we had made the trip down for several years, I believe our desire to return did change. We still feel called to support the rebuilding efforts, but have recognized a couple of other reasons to keep coming back. First, the city of New Orleans and its people have an amazing history and culture that just draws you to them. We have really enjoyed experiencing the city and being in relationship with the people. Second, we’ve learned that this trip is a great opportunity for our community to grow in their faith and relationship with each other. The trip and the relationships that have been established, both within our community and with the people of New Orleans, have positively impacted many of us.”

Many volunteer groups establish connections with staff, partner families, and other volunteers. Partner families work alongside volunteers on site as they earn sweat equity, a basic part of NOAHH’s homeownership program. For the last 100 hours of their sweat equity, they work on their own homes, and as they progress through their hours, there is often an emotional impact of seeing the results of their work, much as there is for volunteers.

“A special bonus to me was that my last day I worked with Cecille, a Habitat partner who was spending her very first day on a construction site,” said Likely. “I was able to teach her how to use a hammer, how to use a prybar, how to measure and record scrap lumber ‘sticky notes,’ and how to place an order for cut wood. She also learned to use a reciprocating saw and a lag bolt driver. We worked on window blocking all morning and in the afternoon she got to help raise the back wall of the camelback’s second story. It was so rewarding to share Cecille’s excitement as she learned new skills and it gave me a sense of leaving a legacy for the next generation of Habitat home builders.”

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Every year, the students from Juilliard take a break from construction work to share their talents with other volunteers and partner families. This unique performance has become a highlight of each year’s spring break volunteering, and it has often contributed to deeper bonds between the students and the future homeowners.

“The parents in the family were Bennie and Chanel,” said Tanbara. “They came to the performance at their (yet to be completed) home and were just wonderful! What really makes them special to me was that they sought us out in 2012 and visited us at our site that year just to say hello and let us know how much they loved their house and how great it felt to be able to have their entire family together under one roof. They had shared that Bennie had gone under the house to fix something, and he saw all the notes and messages we wrote on the joists that supported the floor and that it meant so much to them. Having Bennie and Chanel come find us to meant the world to us. It showed the students how much of an impact their work made to this family.”

“In the Spring of 2013, we worked with volunteers from Julliard on a Habitat build in the 7th Ward,” said Roland Behm of RHINO. “One of the Julliard students expressed surprise that there were always church groups volunteering with them at the Habitat sites in New Orleans. That led to a discussion about faith, hope, and love and manifesting that love in service to others.”

The learning opportunities on site exist for every volunteer and partner family, not just the students. Returning volunteers often find that they learn to do many different tasks, from swinging a hammer to working with power tools, from building walls to painting them.

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“My first site supervisors that I ever worked with in 2013 were Katherine Randall and James Herman,” said Captain Baumer. “They have taught me everything from how to put on siding, build a porch, insulate an attic to shingling the roof. I count them as mentors because they truly demonstrate a committed resolve to making a difference and an impact in New Orleans. Core volunteers like Andy Schroeder and ‘the professor’ [Dennis Kehoe] from Tulane have been good examples to my Marines because we can always count on them to be at a site with us every weekend–which is significant because my Marines will come to New Orleans and make this their home and work and volunteer but three years later we will all get orders and have to make a new home somewhere else, Andy and the professor have been coming every weekend since the storms 10 years ago.”

“One funny moment was two years ago on Deanne,” said Tanbara. “It was freezing and to keep warm between jobs or while waiting for the next assignment, we would dance and sometimes around a laser that we were using to make sure things were level. The motion would throw off the sensor and would shut off the laser. Ben [Brenner], the site supervisor, yelled out, ‘Stop dancing around the laser, you’re throwing it off.’ And then he mumbled, ‘There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.'”

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The dedication of these groups is invaluable to our city’s progress, and NOAHH could not have achieved so much in these last ten years without them. On behalf of everyone whose lives have been impacted by their hard work, NOAHH thanks each of our long-term volunteer groups:

Archbishop Chapelle High School
Association of Government Accountants
Berklee College of Music
Boomtown Casino
Brother Martin High School
California State University Long Beach
Crossroads Cincinnati
The Dalton School
Dillard University
George Washington University
Georgetown Prep
Give Back Beyond Cincinnati
Habitat for Humanity Canada
Huntington High School
InterVarsity
Julliard ARTreach Team
Loyola University (LUCAP)
LSU Medical School
McMaster University
Mount Carmel Academy
Newcomb Sigma Delta Tau Alums (Dirty Dozen)
RHINO
Rocky Hill High School
St. Mary’s University School of Law
Susan Shipley
Tulane University
Western Ontario University
Xavier University
Tulane Kappa Kappa Gamma
US Marine Corps
Rockwood School District
Tulane Law School

And all of our core volunteers: Mark, Wally, Andy, Harvey, Chuck, John, Trey, Keith, Jonathan, Sam, Richmond, Thomas, Luis, Bailey, Dennis, Anthony, Natalie, Jake, Daniel, Will, Terrell, Joel, Percy, Temple, Kin, Ryan, Ann, Niki,Carmel, Tammy, Hank and Chris, and Monica.