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Church World Service Press Release: New national volunteer group to rebuild homes in neglected New Orleans lakefront community

March 30, 2009
Category: General

NEW ORLEANS--One of the still-neglected tragedies of Hurricane Katrina, the historic lakefront community of Little Woods in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, will get a rebuilding boost starting in April, thanks to a first-of-its-kind network of national volunteers spearheaded by humanitarian agency Church World Service.

With a one-neighborhood-at-a-time focus, the "Neighborhood: New Orleans" project will repair or rebuild an initial 12 homes on property owned by current or displaced Little Woods residents during a four-week effort beginning Sunday, April 19, and ending Saturday, May 16.

More than 500 volunteers representing ten different Christian denominations from across the United States have signed up so far to help rebuild the one-time bustling "fishing camp" lakefront community.

"Many Christian denominations and other faith groups have individually helped survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita since 2005," said Bonnie Vollmering, Church World Service Associate Director for Domestic Emergency Response. "This project is truly an effort with denominational groups collaborating the first such post-Katrina ecumenical rebuild effort on a national level."

Global agency CWS will work in partnership with the local New Orleans long-term recovery organization, the Crescent Alliance Recovery Effort (CARE), and with volunteer teams coordinated by Church World Service member denominations and partners who are providing the labor.

Virtually decimated by Katrina and, before it, significantly damaged by Hurricane George in 1998, Little Woods faces the east bank of Lake Ponchartrain. The formerly vibrant, working class community, and its lakefront lined with fishing camps, restaurants and music clubs, had been nominated by the New Orleans Landmarks Commission in 1999 as an historic landmark.*

But nearly four years after Katrina, lot after lot still lies untouched and unrecovered.

In New Orleans, Crescent Alliance Recovery Effort director Ellenor Simmons points out that since Katrina, most of the rebuilding attention by outside sources has focused on the city's Lower 9th Ward.  "Like the Lower 9th Ward, Little Woods flooded heavily in Katrina but it wasn't an area where any organization decided to concentrate its rebuilding efforts," Simmons said.

The Crescent Alliance Recovery Effort, Church World Service and participating national faith groups are hoping this initial rebuild project will be the spark that brings the long-time lake community back together, and that ignites other groups to help continue with Little Woods' recovery.

Church World Service, which provides emergency and recovery assistance following disasters in the U.S. and internationally, domestically specializes in helping faith-based and other community groups establish long-term recovery organizations that serve disaster survivors whose needs aren't met through other means.

Church World Service is supported by public donations and grants and by some 35 U.S. Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations, which contributes to the rebuilding project's unique ecumenical drive. 

"No matter their denominational background, the Little Woods volunteers will be working together, mixed in weekly teams, to help restore and rebuild homes for some of the people of Little Woods who couldn't afford to rebuild themselves and who haven't been helped by the system," Vollmering said.  Vollmering noted that the casework has already been completed for the houses targeted for the project. "We're encouraging other groups not to forget but instead to reinvest funding, materials, volunteer time and consciousness to help now in rebuilding the forgotten communities of New Orleans, one neighborhood at a time," Vollmering said.

Church World Service has established a specific website for the project, http://www.neighborhoodneworleans.net/ .

Some materials for the rebuild effort have been donated by Habitat for Humanity.

National denomination groups coordinating the Little Woods volunteer teams include: American Baptist Churches USA, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America Global Mission, the United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Source: Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La., Nov 21, 1999. Author: Lynne Jensen, Staff writer, Page B, 1:3.


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