NOLA 2012

Working in the Lower Ninth

Written April 19th, 2012

House on Caffin St

Three of our four days with Saint Bernard Project were spent in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The Lower Ninth was one the hardest hit areas of Katrina, and it is by far the poorest. Being the poorest, its recovery has been the slowest. Unlike most other places we went, you can still see block after block after block of decaying homes and empty lots.

We spent the week was a area where several blocks had more houses rebuilt than not. The area was close to the Martin Luther King Charter School, the only school reopened in the Lower Ninth after Katrina. Two of our houses were next door to each other, and the other was 2 streets over. There is a lot of activity in the area, and many of the lots around the houses are either already occupied, or in the process of being rebuilt. SBP is building the home close together on purpose. They are focusing on building up blocks so that when people return, they won’t just be returning to a house, but to a community.

House on Charbonnet

The houses were all at about the same stage of construction. Some of us spent most of the week mudding and sanding, pretty much a staple of NOLA service trip work. Last year that was all we did. This year SBP had its volunteers working in shifts, so the work went faster. So what we didn’t finish in the evening, another group came in in the morning to finish for us. In the house I was working in, we were able to prime the walls on Thursday, and apply the final coat of paint on Friday. Although there is still a lot of work to do on the house, seeing it go from wallboard and mud to completely painted is a wonderful feeling. Paint goes a long way towards making it look like a real house.

Mardi Gras Costumes

Mardi Gras Costumes

One of our groups were actually able to finish a house. They spent two days doing flooring and finish carpentry at the home of Ronald Lewis. Ronald is one of the people who was featured in the book Nine Lives by Dan Baum, which we read 2 years ago as part of our preparation for the trip. He maintains a small museum of the African American Mardi Gras culture. The house we were working on was part of the Lot Next Door program. This program allowed residents who had returned buy the empty city-owned lots next door to their property inexpensively, as long as they promised to build on with a year. The house we were working on was for Ronald’s son and his family.

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