Church shows New Orleans hasn’t been forgotten
NEW ORLEANS – The past few times Steve Baird was in New Orleans, he was tearing homes down. This time, he got to rebuild.The Beaver Creek resident went with eight other members of Vail’s Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration to help clean and reconstruct flood-devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans in April.The group worked mostly in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood, putting up drywall, painting and roofing.Since Katrina struck in August 2005, the church has sent four mission trips to the city. The first three trips involved gutting homes, throwing out furniture, ripping down drywall and shoveling out the putrid mix of gas, oil and mud that had been sitting for months, said Baird, 62, who has been on all four trips.When they were finished, there were towering heaps of ruined belongings on the street in front of the gutted homes, he said.”It really got to us because you were throwing all the family’s belongings on the street. There was a sense of total loss of everything,” he said.But this time was different, Baird said. They spent most of the weeklong trip drywalling a house that would be used for a children’s summer camp. They even returned to other homes they had worked on in the past to see that others were making progress rebuilding. The group included people of all ages, from the retired to recent college graduates. Although few in the group had any construction knowledge, they were able to learn from the more experienced members, said Avon resident John Reichert, who participated in the mission for the first time in April.Just being thereWhen he first arrived, he was struck by the poor condition the city was still in two years after the hurricanes, Reichert said.”It was humbling to see it and feel that we were contributing such a small part,” he said. However, the pastor of a church in the Broadmoor neighborhood told the volunteers it really was not about rebuilding.”He told us, ‘Don’t have an agenda or think about what you’re going to get done. The biggest thing you can do is listen to people and let them tell their story,'” Reichert said.In doing just that the volunteers met people who were determined to rebuild and reinhabit their homes, he said. They also met New Orleans locals, such as Beth Gibson, who did not lose their homes but had stayed in the city to help.Gibson, missions director of the Resurrection House in New Orleans, said that the biggest impact of the volunteers was just their presence. The Resurrection House is a program dedicated to rebuilding homes in Broadmoor. They helped organize and house the Vail volunteers in parishioners’ homes.Gibson said it is easy for people to feel like they have been forgotten by the country and the government. Government grants are running out and many people simply do not have the money to fix their homes, she said. “It’s unbelievable,” Gibson said of the volunteers. “For people here to know that people from all over the country are coming in to help – it really boosts their hope.”The work’s not doneBaird said different volunteers go on the trip every time, and they will continue to go as long as they can gather volunteers.”The media and government largely have moved on. The people really making a difference are at the grass-roots level. This isn’t just a one- or two-trip mission,” he said.Many of the people the groups help are the elderly on fixed incomes or the uninsured, Gibson said. For many, their homes were all they had, and conditions still can be bad.”There are people living in houses with no lights and no plumbing. Some people are sleeping in a gutted out house,” she said.Reichert said what struck him most was the many homeless children in the city. Some remember seeing their parents under water and that was the last time they saw them, he said. It made him think that with so many needs, something had to be done. “There’s still a lot more to be done, and people need to know that. People can help by showing up physically or donating to a church or a group,” he said.He and his wife had thought about going on the trips for a while, he said, but finally were able to in April.”It was time to do something to help other people. We would always find a reason why we couldn’t do it, but this time we found reasons we could do it,” he said. He plans to go on the next trip in October.The Episcopal Church also funds four other missions projects in a school in Honduras, a school in Tanzania, a homeless shelter in Denver and an American Indian reservation in North and South Dakota. Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.