LOUISIANA: Day of Service brings Episcopalians together

September 2, 2009

People came from all over the country to help rebuild New Orleans homes in commemoration of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's fury.

From his home of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Larry Vandenbergen read an announcement in the weekly Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana newsletter (the e-DOLA), to which he subscribes, about an upcoming day of service scheduled by the Diocese of Louisiana to commemorate the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

He did some research online, contacted Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (ECS, formerly the diocese's Office of Disaster Response) volunteer coordinator Pete Nunnally, consulted with his wife and his boss, and booked a flight.

James Duracin saw an announcement for the day of service on one of University of the South's student postings. The Haitian native fit the day into the month he's taking off to travel and visit family after graduating from the university.

"I'm learning a lot, especially working with tools," he said. "When I come back to New Orleans I want to bring more people with me to help out. I'll be telling people about this program."

These two long-distance volunteers joined forces with people from across the Diocese of Louisiana to mark the anniversary by rebuilding homes for those not yet returned to theirs. Christ Church, Covington; Chapel of the Holy Spirit, New Orleans; St. Martin's, Metairie; Trinity, Morgan City; Mt. Olivet, New Orleans; All Saints, River Ridge; St. John's, Kenner; Trinity, New Orleans; St. Luke's, New Orleans; Grace, New Orleans; Annunciation, New Orleans; St. Mark's, Harvey; St. James, Baton Rouge and St. George's, New Orleans were all represented.

About 70 people turned out at ECS' warehouse in the Upper Ninth Ward, where they began the day at 9 a.m. with prayer before splitting into six groups to work on six rebuild sites around the city. Volunteers were put to work sheetrocking, insulating, painting, and even gutting homes.

After putting in a day of work, volunteers regrouped at the Church of All Souls in the Lower Ninth Ward for a cookout party hosted by ECS. Everyone shared stories about their day of service and reflected on what this anniversary meant. Many of the local volunteers said feel they had finally reached a stage where they have cared for themselves and are now ready to reach out and help others heal.

By chance, the Rev. Ken Ritter of Trinity, Baton Rouge, found that the St. Bernard Parish home he had been painting all day was that of an elderly couple he had once married at Trinity on Valentine's Day. He will be sharing the news of his experience with the couple and updating them on the progress of their home.

"It's great to see folks from ECS offices and across the diocese hanging out in community and fellowship together like this," said Nunnally.
ECS Rebuild coordinator Liz Carrier echoed this sentiment. "It's wonderful to have local volunteers turn out and to see people from different churches come together to interact and put in a day of service."

The Rev. John Miller of St. James in Baton Rouge felt that working alongside parishioners from around the diocese, while installing insulation on a home in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood, was one of the best parts of the experience.

For Loyola law student Tyler Gray, the biggest surprise was being the Uptown neighborhood to gut a home. "It's amazing how close it is to where I live. I ride my bike through that neighborhood all the time and didn't realize houses were still in need of major work," he said. "All the neighbors came up and talked to us and wanted to know what was going on, and they were thankful we were cleaning up the garbage in the house. They were all back in their homes, but this one house on the block still hadn't been gutted. I'm very thankful I came out on the anniversary, I had a great time, and I will definitely be doing it again. It was a very special thing to be a part of."