Thursday, December 11, 2008

news from orrie king about the auction

Dear Auction Participants, Attendees, and Friends,

Thank you so much to everyone that participated in last week's "Rebuilding New Orleans" fundraiser and silent auction! It was a great success and we appreciate all of your support! I would like to especially thank ALL of the artists, John from the Union Gallery, Amy from, Jim from Vestry Wines, Brooklyn Brewery, and to everyone that bid on the work!!

We still have some of the photographs available for purchase. I have received multiple requests to extend the sale, with the remainder of the work, for those of you who were unable to make it to the Union Gallery for the auction and hanging exhibition last week. Please make a note that we have updated the blog with the status of both the work that sold and that which is still available, along with the minimum auction prices and corresponding personal statements by each artist. Please be sure to VIEW ALL WORK (25 images total), scrolling through "older posts" in the blog. The prints are beautifully rich c-prints, signed by the artists, and most are part of limited editions.

Remember 100% of the proceeds will be given to and each purchaser will receive a 501(c)(3) receipt equal to the amount given. To purchase, or for any comments, questions, or further information, please contact me directly at

Give the gift of art for the holidays, for yourself, friends, and family - this is a unique opportunity to buy original art by these nationally recognized artists, from an outstanding collection of work, available at incredibly reasonable auction prices (and did I mention tax deductible?) and for a GREAT cause - we want to sell!!

Thank you!

Orrie King (photographer and curator)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

good news, of a sort...

The following comes from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

Life in New Orleans post-Katrina certainly can be rough. We still have years of rebuilding ahead of us, and now we're in the midst of an economic crisis. But looking at the numbers we see much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

While the country is losing jobs by the hundreds of thousands, in New Orleans we've gained jobs - 8,000 in the last year to be specific. During that same time Milwaukee lost 10,000 jobs, and Tampa lost 23,000. Atlanta lost 34,000 jobs and in Los Angeles 53,000 disappeared.

This has kept the New Orleans unemployment rate low - only 5.3 percent compared with the national rate of 6 percent in September. Many cities have it much worse than we do. Atlanta's unemployment is 6.5 percent and Chicago's is 6.3. Los Angeles and Las Vegas have even higher unemployment rates - 7.3 and 7.4 percent. And Detroit's is a whopping 8.3 percent.

Did you realize that most of the funny mortgages behind the national foreclosure crisis were sold in 2005 and 2006? That's right. We can be thankful to Katrina for this one. Recently released data from HUD estimates the foreclosure rate in the New Orleans area is 3.3 percent compared to 4.8 nationwide. Atlanta has a 5.1 percent foreclosure rate and Cleveland's is 7.5. Miami is suffering from a 9 percent foreclosure rate and Las Vegas from 9.2.

In closing, we offer up our humble gratitude that things here in New Orleans aren't as bad as they could be, and that New Orleans may prove to be a pretty safe place to weather this economic storm.


The Data Center team

(Joy Bonaguro, Charlotte Cunliffe, Elaine Ortiz, Allison Plyer, Denice Ross, and Melissa Schigoda)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

new video

New work by our friends Kieron Bryan and Luke Farrington, featuring project manager Matt Grigsby (he's the handsome guy in the beginning)!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The following article appeared in the Inside/Out section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 25th, 2008

With the plumbing work wrapping up thanks to help from, Greta Gladney hopes to be back in her Jourdan Avenue home by the end of the year.
Danny Bourque / The Times-Picayune Archive

NOTE: Greta Gladney's home-repair project was stalled while she waited for a plumber to give her a bid and get to work. Then, one day, help arrived out of the blue.

Back in August, Greta Gladney thought it would be no more than two weeks before the plumber recommended by a friend would give her a contract to sign and then begin working in her Holy Cross home.

But one delay led to another, and weeks turned into months as she waited and prodded. Then she received a phone call that changed everything and super-charged her languishing renovation.

"I got a call from telling me they finally had a licensed plumber available to work on my house," she said. "All I would have to do is pay for materials."

The nonprofit was founded in early 2007 to help residents of the Lower 9th Ward get back into their homes. It began as an all-volunteer initiative but has since branched out into providing skilled, licensed labor for needs like electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning installation. Labor is free, and residents buy the necessary materials.

"Sometime, maybe eight or nine months ago, I was talking to a staff member at the St. Claude Farmers Market one Saturday. She was interested in community-supported agriculture, just like I am, but one thing led to another and soon we were talking about my house," Gladney said. "She told me about the resident services program and said I should come by their office and file an application for assistance."

The nonprofit operates out of a house it refurbished on El Dorado Street in Holy Cross, not far from Gladney's Jourdan Avenue home. She found the office, submitted an application and then forgot about it.

"To be honest, I just didn't think about it much after that, because I knew they had a long waiting list of people needing help. So I just moved forward on my own," she said.

Gladney gutted her house, painted the outside, reframed areas of the interior that she wanted to reconfigure and installed new wiring. But the project stalled when she had trouble connecting with her preferred plumber. As it turns out, maybe the delay wasn't so bad after all.

"I was aggravated at the time, but now I am really glad the original plumber kept delaying, or the work would have already been done by the time I got the call," she said. "Cyril knocked it out in just 10 days for a tiny fraction of what I would have spent."

Cyril Mungal of Semper Fi Plumbing -- a former Marine -- was dispatched by to work with Gladney.

"They called on a Wednesday, and by Friday I had met with Cyril and signed a contract," she said. "The very first time we met, he showed me his license and insurance, something I usually have had to ask for from other people over and over."

Mungal started work three days after the contract was signed. In just eight working days, Gladney said, he replaced the cracked cast-iron drain pipe, ran new water lines for the shower and moved the toilet and the sink upstairs.

"Downstairs, he roughed in for the walk-in shower in the rear room and everything in the kitchen," she said. "He even ran the gas line for the stove."

By the end of this week, Gladney expected to have had Mungal's work inspected so that she could move on to the next step of installing the heating and air conditioning system, something else has offered to help with.

"We were supposed to talk it over this week, but I don't expect any hold-ups. Everything has gone so smoothly with them," she said. Gladney said the staff at the nonprofit is still accepting assistance applications from those who lived in the Lower 9th Ward before Katrina, and she has been spreading word to neighbors who need help.

"A lot of folks aren't aware, but they need to be, because it will help them get back home," she said.

Not all work was suspended on Jourdan Avenue while the plumber drama played out. In fact, Gladney's friend and adviser, James Williams, made sure that key framing and carpentry items were complete, so that there would be no delays in closing the walls once all rough-ins are complete.

"When James and I met over there in August, we agreed that the closet and the study off of my bedroom upstairs really needed to be reconfigured," she said. "The framer who had done the work had framed it so that the window let light into the closet rather than the study. James switched things around for me, and he also leveled the floor downstairs in the rear room off the kitchen, the one that sloped because it used to be an outdoor porch."

Gladney said her dream is to be back home by the end of the year. It would be an ambitious timetable, but she said she thinks it's doable. Whatever the outcome, Gladney said recent developments have left her musing over life's ironies.

"I pushed and pushed and pushed to get that original plumber to the house," Gladney said. "Yet it was when I stopped pushing that what I needed fell into my lap. It seems that's the way a lot of things have gone on this project."

For more information or assistance from, call 504.278.1240 or visit

Stephanie Bruno can be reached at

Friday, September 19, 2008

1.1M Americans volunteer to work on N.O. recovery

Posted: 8/20/07

VIOLET (AP) - More than 1.1 million Americans have volunteered to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina, President Bush's recovery chief said Monday.

"As the rebuilding effort continues, volunteers will remain a critical source of hope and help in the Gulf, and I encourage more Americans to get involved, because the government cannot bring these communities back alone," Donald Powell said at a ribbon-cutting for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity's Camp Hope, a shelter providing housing for visiting volunteers.

Data on volunteers was released at the ceremony in the suburban New Orleans community of Violet.

The Corporation for National and Community Service said that in the first year after the storm, more than 550,000 Americans participated in the volunteer effort. The number has continued to rise, hitting 600,000 in the second year, despite less news media coverage of the area, the organization said.

The increase in volunteers the second year after the storm, which hit Aug. 29, 2005, shows the determination to rebuild the region, said David Eisner, CEO of National and Community Service. He, like Powell, expects the trend of volunteering in Katrina-ravaged areas to continue to rise.

"Particularly in New Orleans we should see a dramatic increase," Eisner said. "We're beginning to see housing become available and that will help draw volunteers."

Volunteers will be needed for the better part of the next decade as the recovery continues, said Jim Pate, executive director of the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

Powell and Eisner were here for the opening of a volunteer shelter that house up to 500 volunteers at a time. The shelter, in St. Bernard Parish, will house mainly volunteers constructing new houses.•

Katrina anniversary is good time to set the facts straight

Posted by neworleanscitybusiness on August 20th, 2007
By Deon Roberts, Online Editor

By the time the storm’s anniversary rolled around last year, Katrina fatigue was alive and well.

Many in America were sick of hearing about the Gulf Coast’s struggles. They had heard for 12 months about FEMA trailers, destroyed homes and sluggish federal aid.

As Katrina’s second anniversary approaches, it’s a given that there will be a boost in national media coverage. Some Americans will no doubt roll their eyes, groan and grumble as the national media presents stories of hurricane victims who are still without homes.

Some Americans will wonder why they should feel sorry for people who have had two years to rebuild. Katrina’s second anniversary is a good opportunity for America to understand why we haven’t fully recovered.

There’s good reason why St. Bernard Parish, eastern New Orleans and other portions of the metro area are still wastelands of empty, ramshackle houses where floodwaters reached as high as the roof.

The media should remind America that The Road Home is the reason why many Louisiana homes are not rebuilt. The federally funded program was meant to provide hurricane-affected homeowners with rebuilding grants of up to $150,000.

ICF International of Fairfax, Va., is heading up the program for Louisiana. To date, 184,189 people have applied to the program but only 42,340 or 23 percent of applicants have received funding. The point is more homes would be rebuilt if The Road Home would get money in the hands of homeowners quicker.

Streets and public buildings have not been rebuilt because federal recovery dollars are tied up in bureaucracy. This is not the fault of ordinary citizens. Rather, it’s owed to the way the federal Stafford Act controls how recovery funds can be spent.

Communities must begin repair work before they are reimbursed but must fill out onerous paperwork to access the funds. In some cases, the state does not have permission from the federal government to spend recovery dollars.

The media should remind America that there is still life in New Orleans. As one person commented on in May, “N.O. is dead. Fill it with water and make a state park out of it.”

But New Orleans is not dead. Residents have returned and rebuilt or are rebuilding. One recent report says the city’s population is about 273,600, 60 percent of its pre-Katrina figure.

The media should also use the anniversary to remind America how New Orleans got into this mess: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levees failed and led to the destruction of New Orleans. Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane that did not hit the city directly; it passed to the east of us with Mississippi taking the brunt of the storm. The point is our levees should have held up.

If the poorly built levees and floodwalls had not ruptured, New Orleans would not have flooded and the city today would look pretty much like it did pre-Katrina.

The national media are notoriously unsophisticated, although there are some exceptions. When the reporters descend on New Orleans for Katrina’s second anniversary, they need to explain why New Orleans still struggles.
The disaster wasn’t the fault of the residents and neither is the slow pace of the recovery.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim Leaders Call for Moral Response to Hurricanes

108 diverse leading religious officials - including, Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches; Rev. Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals; Richard Stearns, President, World Vision; Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Dr. Ingrid Matterson, Islamic Society of North America; Fr. Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA; Rev. David Beckmann, Bread for the World; and Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners - signed an interfaith statement calling for not just a charitable response but for justice through long-term human rights-based recovery policy to help Gulf Coast families. Three years after the current administration's first major speech promising to rebuild the region devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the slow pace of recovery, the collapse of local institutions, homelessness, internal displacement, poverty, abusive labor practices and environmental degradation have created a moral crisis in the Gulf Coast. In recent weeks, hurricanes Gustav and Ike have added to the devastation in the Gulf Coast demanding a powerful response from people of faith. The statement urges national leaders to make enacting bi-partisan resident-led federal solutions, including the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, helping families return and participate in rebuilding their communities, creating living wage jobs, restoring the coastal wetland and ensuring human rights along the Gulf Coast a national moral priority.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


the following is from the new orleans times-picayune of this past friday.

Sturdy old homes ideal for renewal
Posted by Jack Davis, Guest Columnist, The Times-Picayune September 12, 2008 3:31PM

The Lower 9th Ward neighborhood of Holy Cross, which three years ago had water in its living rooms, still shows the pain of bringing New Orleans back from Katrina's flooding.

But with strengthened levees that stood up to Gustav's recent test, Holy Cross also shows the hope and success that are redeeming not only this historic neighborhood but others across the city as we enter this fourth year of slow and steady recovery.

Preservationists saw Holy Cross as an important place to concentrate their efforts, to bring back a working-class, mostly African-American community of homeowners. And its century-old, well built and slightly elevated houses were the kind that could be rehabilitated more easily than replaced.

While serving the immediate need of providing housing, preservationists also wanted to prove that historic preservation is a key strategy for any stricken city's response to catastrophe -- especially for a city whose architectural character and neighborhood fabric make it unique in the world.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its partners -- especially the Preservation Resource Center and its local chapter of Rebuilding Together -- have brought 125 houses back to life in this compact area.

Today, Holy Cross is approaching the time when the preservationists can step aside and let revitalization take its own course.

The National Trust is prepared to help as long as it takes, says its president, Richard Moe.

That's why it opened a field office here right after the storm, brought in architects and other skilled volunteers, lobbied Congress for restoration grants and tax credits to spur preservation-based economic development -- accounting for $70 million available to help rebuild New Orleans.

The organization, with the state of Louisiana, expanded its Main Street program, which promotes vitality in neighborhood retail districts, to the commercial corridors on Oak Street, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, St. Claude Avenue and North Rampart Street. In any given week, one or two National Trust for Historic Preservation staff members from Washington are in New Orleans working with neighborhoods, developers and preservation groups.

The National Trust has stepped up advocacy efforts to remind public officials that preservation of our heritage has made New Orleans a world cultural treasure, a standing that drives the tourism economy.

The National Trust put Charity Hospital on its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places this spring, along with the historic Mid-City neighborhoods that could be razed for the LSU and VA hospitals, because keeping both assets will make the medical district grow stronger. Working with residents, we believe that plans can be achieved which advance the goals of a medical district and retain historic neighborhoods.

The recent report by RMJM Hillier that Big Charity could be rehabilitated into a modern hospital at lower cost than new construction is another reminder that solid old buildings will help us save energy and make the new New Orleans more sustainable.

Preservation saves money and allows a city's scarce resources to be used wisely.

New Orleans' architectural heritage is one of the things that makes New Orleans special. The steady rebirth of Holy Cross testifies to the power of that vision.

But Mid-City, where the wrecking ball looms over hundreds of historic homes, reminds us that preservationists' work is not done, and that is why we're going to stay until the job is finished.

. . . . . . .

Jack Davis, who lives in New Orleans and Chicago, is a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

the big spill

Now that we've gotten past the evacuation, it's time to try and catch up on some of the stuff I missed posting all summer! The following was written by Brennan Dougherty, our Community Gardening manager:

The Oil Spill

Early in the morning of July 23rd, two barges collided in the Mississippi River near the French Quarter of New Orleans - one barge was freshly loaded with No.6 fuel oil. Unknown amounts of oil were spilled into the Mississippi River, the worst spill the river has seen in over 10 years. Estimates say that 280,000-400,000 gallons of oil were deposited into the river, a mere 140 barrels removed safely. On the 30th, 1200 more gallons leaked from the sunken barge. The smell of oil was strong along the banks of the levee near the Lower Ninth Ward. We heard from people who were in the French Quarter that fumes were making them dizzy and exacerbating symptoms for asthma sufferers.

I heard about the spill by phone, on the way home from a meeting of the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition, a newly organized group of individuals and organizations committed to creating a sustainable system of food security for the neighborhood. By the reaction of the caller, I assumed someone had been greatly hurt. When I heard it was a spill, I barely reacted. I had been wondering if I am becoming desensitized to tragedy since I’ve been down in New Orleans for the past seven months. Everyday I walk past homes still standing, barely in many cases, and hardly notice. Where it was once an overwhelming sight and threw my heart in many directions, I now just walk on normally, stepping over the asbestos on the sidewalk.

So I acknowledged the spill as being something I had never heard about before - at least not so close to home, but didn't make it to the levee for another two days to have a look. Then I received another phone call from the girl who had informed me of the spill. Some folks were forming a group to observe and throw together some kind of renegade oil spill clean-up crew. (At least that’s what I imagined it would be.) We met up, roughly 12 of us, and spoke about the effects of the spill and what we could do to help clean up. A man came who has devoted his life to researching a method of cleaning up heavy fuel oil. "Human hair is the best material for the absorption of oil" Relatively unbelievable, I thought. He donated some of these sterile hair mats, made from the bits of hair that are left over in wig production. At that point, we were hoping to drag the hair mats near the banks of the Mississippi and soak up the oil ourselves. We also decided to start compiling an informative newsletter for the neighborhood. The plan was to monitor the clean up and talk to as many people as possible to get the real facts. I decided the best thing I could do is be an observer, as the volunteer work I’m involved in on a day-to-day basis is beyond enough work as it is!

A few days later we decided to check out the banks of the river. Our first stop was Holy Cross, along the levee bank that borders the neighborhood some of us have called home for over 2 years, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

It was worse than I imagined. The smell made me dizzy. One person just walked home. It was too much, and more than any of us had realized. Here we had given ourselves the motivation and slight arrogance that - "Yes, we're going to clean up the oil!" - but the reality was much harder to stomach. We traveled more along the river without much of a method. We found birds that were uncatchable and one that we could catch, but which was already far gone. We started fighting among ourselves. We were too late, some believed, and the cynicism started running deep. It’s all screwed now. What can we do? We don't have much money or gloves, any suits or training to help clean up. We don't have everyday to scope the river and try to save every bird. The day ended solemnly. Some attended the Coast Guard’s conference that spoke about the large effort they were to make for the banks of the river. I drove the cynic’s home.

Jonah and I, who work together closely on the gardening projects at, decided to make ourselves observers on some level- as much as we could spare it. The next day we decided to check the banks of Holy Cross, at the very least, and make sure they were cleaning things up. What we found then was harder. They were spraying the banks, making an effort to clean up, but we were still seeing distressed animals. We called the people who were assigned to deal with animals and were told someone would come out. We found a duck in bad shape, but still alive enough to make it impossible to catch. We saw another covered in oil, but even more alive somehow...

We hoped they would be taken care of, but felt it was out of our reach to help them. And it was. After an internet search and call to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service we learned that catching and rehabilitating oiled animals is a difficult task that requires experience, specific tools and facilities. When you find an animal covered in oil, its intestinal tract is harmed greatly and just the shock of being handled can be deadly. Wiping the oil from a bird in a non-temperature controlled environment can give it rapid hypothermia. We decided to let the experts do it instead. The day before, we purchased a map for a proposed intensive survey, following the spill up and down both banks of the river. We traveled south and stopped in as many locations as we could before the end of the working day. Holy Cross was by far the worst of the banks, but consistently we found evidence that the booms for catching the oil hadn’t been set early enough, or that the river traffic hadn’t stopped. The lower foliage of trees on the banks were caked in oil, like molasses, and there were rings showing just how much the water had come up and receded. There were rings of oil rocking on top of the waves brushing up against the bank. Jonah took notes, I took photos.

The Day Buffy Found Us

One day during the oil spill crisis, we had planned to maintain the prospective garden lots that we have scattered in the neighborhood. On a whim, Jonah suggest that we go back to check on the duck, to see if the wildlife people had come to catch it or not. Three feet from the last spot we had seen the duck, there it lay, its final resting spot near an oil-rimmed tree. We walked the rest of the shoreline and saw another duck alive and swimming in the oily water that was still brushing along the shore. There was no way we could catch it. We called U.S. Fish and Wildlife. They advised us to pick up the duck, bag it and put it on ice until someone could retrieve it the next morning. We had heard that No.6 fuel oil was strong enough to melt most plastics, but learned that the volatile content (fumes/chemicals that could melt plastic) was mostly gone at that time, having been carried into the air.
Jumping back in the oil fueled car, we sped to the store and got heavy duty neoprene gloves (also made from oil), bags (again, plastic) and Dawn dish soap for cleaning, in case we could catch the living duck. We returned to Holy Cross and placed the fragile body, nearly the color of the sky, into the bag. I knew it had to be the same duck. It hadn't gotten very far.

We were walking back to the car when we turned and saw a beautiful blonde pit-bull trotting towards us. Her skin was clinging to her bones, and although it looked like she might be nursing, we couldn;t be sure, and her feet were black!
We lured her closer to us. I was nervous, nearly frantic, wondering if she would come or not. As she got closer we saw oil in spots all over her body. She came calmly and won us over with her sweet unbiased dog love. She was untagged, but seemed like she knew the place. I didn't know what to do. I called our friends who were in the group of volunteers we had organized for the survey, and they said they would come out to see. Luckily (ha!) we hadn't dropped off the clothing donation that was bagged up in the back of the vehicle. We devised a leash out of a t-shirt and tried to clean her feet. She was impatient, hot and hungry, so we went on a little walk. She and I sat in the shade. The t-shirt was nearly breaking. I pulled my favorite bandanna from my pocket and wrapped it around her neck. It looked great with her beautiful blond hair. Mama and I walked back to where Jonah was sitting by the car. We again cleaned her feet and gave her water. It was nearly 100 degrees- she was hot, we were hot - but mindlessly nervous. By the time the group arrived, the bulk of the black was gone but it had worked its way into every detail of her feet. The nails were lined with it, between the toes and all. She had a spot on her nose, and kept licking it, spots on her teats, her neck, and her body. She snuggled in under the car for shade. Another girl and I kept cleaning the details of her feet with dish soap. A strange truck approached us and said "Buffy! What you doin' out?" It was her owner. He told us he lived just at the base of the Wharf and she must have gotten loose. We cleaned her as best we could and returned her home to find her eight darling puppies jumping around the back of a pick-up truck. Our visit had turned into hours and the day was nearly over.

Jonah, Tariq (a volunteer from Palestine) and I returned to Holy Cross a couple days later to see about the clean-up and the living duck we had seen a few days before. We walked the banks of the river carefully, so as not to sink in that Mississippi mud or get covered in the oil that was now settling. Jonah screamed. I rushed to see if he was OK. Midway, I found the second duck, its black body blending into the oily shore. I screamed back.

Jonah was knee deep in the mud. Tariq looked at the duck for a moment, walked away, but then helped me put it into the bag. Both of us stood detached and matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I watched his eyes closely, seeking some kind of reaction. Then I remembered that this was fairly minor in comparison to the many, far greater injustices he has been put through in his life, the friends and family that have died in front of those eyes. My eyes are new to death. I have a wonderful friend in the Marines. He was in Iraq for the invasion in 2003, freshly out of boot camp, and even remains there today. He had beautiful eyes, bluer than you can imagine, goofy and playful. When I saw him in late 2004 they had grown darker in color. They were older, had seen more, and only gave you as much as they wanted you to see. They were guarded and strong, desperately compassionate for short moments at a time. Tariq’s eyes seemed the same. We sat out on the wharf and watched the orange oil booms set to contain the spill and the oil brushing over them from the waves from remaining river traffic. I commented arrogantly on the pure aesthetic value of the oils irridescence. He said plainly, “There is nothing beautiful about that.” He’s right.

The weeks have passed now and the banks of Holy Cross are as clean as the Coast Guard is going to get them. I keep searching for a day to travel south again and follow up on the clean up, to hold people accountable. Work has been overwhelming as most of our long-term volunteers say goodbye, some after a few months and others after years. The load never gets lighter without them, just spreads across fewer, sometimes fresher backs.
Work always presses on and new, exciting events take place in the neighborhood. We set out with a wily crew from New York to pass out flyers for the Sankofa Marketplace, a market filled with art, health clinics, live music, farmers, and snowballs, that staple New Orleans treat . When we all met up again, one group told me they thought they found a duck. And they had. Duck Number 3, as it came to be known in my head. Nothing was more gruesome than this duck. The head was a foot from the body and the flesh was being consumed by maggots. It was pretty far gone. Somehow, though, it wasn't any worse than the first time. The sight was awful - for a moment you're nearly gagging - but the tragedy is not the same.

Things are more distant, less infuriating, though you know that those responsible don't have to witness these things. Somehow we're able to joke about the "duck hunting" and the journeys it’s carried us on. But I fear for my being desensitized. It makes me question my sanity. Have I lost it? What am I gaining, maybe? What have I learned? Is this growth or regression? Will much surprise me anymore? Then again most of the questions fade with time and I get by on the day to day. People I learn to love come and go and sometimes I barely notice. The touch of gray to being a long-term volunteer?

(The Department of Fish and Wildlife eventually came and got Duck #3, and got more help. When we first contacted them, they had one person staffing the spill office, and three volunteers. Their numbers are now 30 and they have rescued 60 or more animals affected. To the credit of the Coast Guard, we did find clean-up crews out, even in remote areas. The question that still stands, though, is when do you decide you have cleaned up enough?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

gustav est mort

Okay, time for the post-Gustav wrap-up!
(just in time for Ike! >)

Darren and I spent Tuesday in Alexandria, in our meandering effort to get back as close to home as we could as soon as we could. Driving south through the state, from Alexandria to Baton Rouge and beyond, we encountered a lot of heavy weather, flooding, wind damage, power outages and traffic. We drove through Evangeline Parish just a few hours after a couple of unlucky folks were killed by a tornado, and the scene was pretty dismal all the way along. As we were coming into the city on 61 East on Wednesday, most of the traffic lights were out, but traffic was light by the time we got that far, despite the fact that Jefferson Parish had already given the “come home” order, and Orleans Parish was still under evacuation until midnight that night.

But, despite that, we managed to weave our way back into the city and made it to the Lower Nine around 2 p.m. that afternoon. After taking a quick look around our property and assessing the damage (a couple of roof shingles missing, lots of leaves and small branches in the yard, no power) then unloading the supplies from the cars, we went on a driving tour of the neighborhood to check on damage to any of our residents’ houses. I’m happy to say that, with one major exception, our houses stood up to the storm just fine. A few missing roof shingles (none on any of the roofs we’ve done), trees and branches down near, but not on, the houses. So, we’re pretty happy, ‘cause things could have sure been worse.

The one exception I mentioned was, I’m sad to say, the carport we helped Darren build for Howard (Junior) Foster. The wind got under it and lifted the roof up, or so it looks, and set it back down with enough force to buckle the walls. I was personally sorry to see that, as we’ve had some pretty good crawfish boils, domino games and lazy afternoons sitting talking to Junior since we built it, and now Junior’s got no place out of the sun to sit when he’s outside.

We spent the day Thursday picking up around the place and getting some of the mess in the house left from the hasty retreat shoveled out. Without power, and hence, air conditioning, we were pretty miserable, but we managed to find ice to keep water cold and, thanks to Laura Paul and the fact that her house still had power, we were able to duck into the air conditioning from time to time, so let’s have a big round of applause for Laura (who evacuated to Florida and may now be stuck waiting out the next two Hurricanes before she can get back)!

As a sign that things were, indeed, getting back to normal, we had two volunteers arrive Thursday evening, eager to help us clean up and get back to work. The rest of our crew made it back from Shreveport late Thursday, as well, so by the first of the week we should be back in business.

Now, of course, we just need to hope that Ike misses us and we make it through the rest of hurricane season unscathed…

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

news as it happens!

But not really exciting news, so don't be disappointed.

Darren and I made it to another safe harbor in Alexandria today, which was battered overnight by the storm. At least half the city is without power and trees are down all over. Things have calmed down now, the wind is in the 15 knot range and it's raining moderately.

We managed to contact one of Darren's pals, Adam, in the Lower Nine this afternoon, and he did a drive-by of our facility on El Dorado Street. No trees down on any of our buildings, or anyone else's on the street, so we're alright. He said there were some shingles in the street, but couldn't tell where they came from. So, maybe some roof repair and we'll be back in business, then we can get to our residents' houses and repair any damage to the finished houses and get back to work on the rest.

The city has said that business owners are going to be allowed back in tomorrow, so, being a business, albeit a non-profit one, Dirty D and I will try and run the blockade tomorrow, with the rest of the troops having received the word to return on Thursday.

I'll let everyone exactly what we find when we get there, and try and post some pictures...

the day after

It looks like we dodged a bullet this time, for lack of a better cliche, but there are no reports of flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward. Darren and I are going to try and get closer to the city today, though it's still blustery and rainy in northern Louisiana where we are. Of course, that also depends on finding a room closer to home. No word yet on when people are going to be allowed to get back into the city, but we'll be back in as soon as we get the word.

A couple of other things I wanted to mention - I've been doing all this running around with a broken ankle, and I want to thank all the kind people who have held doors, cups, plates and everything else for me to make it easier to make my way around, folks have been great. Secondly, I want to commend the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana for their response to this storm and for facilitating the evacuation. It's too bad it took a tragedy like Katrina to wake people up to the danger and the need for decisive action, but the lesson has been learned and from what we've seen, everything worked well.

Now, if we can just manage to avoid being hit by any of the next five storms lining up in the Atlantic this week, we'll be okay.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"i wish i was in new orleans..."

I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on how things stand for our troops on the ground (and, we are indeed scattered all over the ground now). evacuated the bulk of our long-term volunteers as of Saturday morning. Christi Lou, Brennan, Gustavo, Eric and Eric fled to the Dallas area, where Christi Lou has family. As of yesterday, all of them except Lou started moving back toward home, and they are now in Shreveport. Ryan and Jonah stayed until Sunday noon, to take care of finishing battening down the hatches on site. They, last call I got, were on their way to Atlanta.

Darren, Laura and I left early Sunday morning. We dropped Laura off at the airport on our way out of town, and she flew to Florida (which means she's in the path of Hurricane Hannah now!). Darren and i had planned to go only as far north as we needed to feel safe, so we could get back into the city at the Gulf ahead of the storm, there wasn't a motel room to be had in the state, and believe me, we stopped at dozens and called dozens more. We ended up driving all the way to Tyler, TX before we found a room, and spent last night there. Today we found a room in Monroe, LA, so we're at least back in Louisiana, set to drive south as soon as the weather clears.

Here's what we know now, from CNN and from folks who stayed behind:
It appears that there has been no widespread flooding in the city, and none in the Lower Nine. If you've been watching CNN, you've seen the pictures of the Industrial Canal filled to the top of the levee walls, and overtopping the wall on west side (Upper Ninth Ward). The last report we saw, just a few minutes ago, indicated that the water level in the Canal was dropping, so we may have avoided another tragedy. I say "may" because the surge threat is still a worry for another few hours until the storm has passed the area completely. Right now, Baton Rouge is being battered, and we could get over 15 inches of rain even here in northern LA tonight and tomorrow, with winds inthe 40-50 mph range.

I want to thank all the volunteers for keeping their wits about them and being willing to secure the property and take themselves to safe locations. We have no idea what sort of damage we'll find when we return, but it's certain that we willhave at least roofs and windows to repair on our residents' homes, and probably our own building as well. At this minute (4:45 pm) reports are coming in that levess in Plaquemines Parish are in danger of breaching, which means that New Orleans is still, as I said, at some risk from storm surge.

Thanks for all the calls and emails from those of you who have been trying to get some news about and its people. I've said many times that the unofficial motto of is, "We'll Figure it Out!" I would like to tack an addendum onto that, and that would be, "And We Don't Give Up."

"what we do"

"what we do" from rick prose on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

This I Believe

the good folks at NPR's "This I Believe" didn't accept the following essay for broadcast, but since i have this soapbox at my disposal, i reprint it here:

The City That Care Forgot (yet, some of us remember)

I believe, as simplistic as this may sound, that our capacity to continue to evolve as a species is directly related to our willingness to unselfishly reach out to our fellow human beings in times of crisis. And more than just reaching out, I believe that the lengths to which we are willing to go to alleviate the conditions that create crises in the first place, and how far we are willing to go to make things right after the fact, are just as important. I believe that nowhere in America today is that unselfish spirit of person helping person more in evidence, or more needed, than it is in the city of New Orleans.

This may sound odd, given the variety and seriousness of the myriad problems we Americans face in today’s world, but I believe – passionately and fervently – that if we, as individuals and as a country, refuse to respond adequately and appropriately to the tragedy that is present-day New Orleans, we just may be sacrificing a bigger piece of our collective soul than we’re aware of. Having spent the last year-and-a-half of my life, at no small amount of personal sacrifice, trying to make some sort of tangible progress toward responding to the city’s needs, I think I have a perspective that others may lack.

Everyone I meet is happy to tell me all the things they think they know about New Orleans – the government is inept at best, corrupt at worst; the people are all poor and ill-educated; it’s below sea level, so it’s just going to flood again; the police department is helpless to rid the city of guns and crack, or the people all too willing to use them – I’ve heard it all, and some of it’s true.

But I believe the city can come back, better than ever, if we all pitch in to help. In fact, for those who care to look, you can see it beginning to happen, and nowhere do you see it more clearly than in the vast numbers of people who have come here, on their own nickel, to help the city recover. I spend my days putting volunteers to work rebuilding homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, and I have seen first-hand what a powerful, life-affirming force this willingness to give can be, for the giver and the recipient. By shingling a roof, re-wiring a house, sharing a meal, listening to a story or offering a hug, and asking for nothing in return, we exemplify the capacity of the human spirit to conquer, against all odds.

In reaching out to Lower Nine residents, who had everything they owned taken from them in a single day through no fault of their own, these people, many of whom have become more-or-less full-time volunteers, have shown that capacity to touch the lives of others that I believe is so vitally important. And New Orleanians have recognized the importance of that selfless urge to help, and have accepted that help graciously, and welcomed us into their community with open arms.

This, I believe, is the fertile, common ground from which the City That Care Forgot will rise, and be whole again.

Monday, May 5, 2008

another post from herman...

photo by volunteer mike ryan

Today, Friday, was our last day working here in New Orleans. It was a wonderful day in many ways. It was spent with the guys and gals that form the "front lines" of, which I mentioned yesterday. Today we worked directly with some of the long-term volunteers for that group. The oldest of the bunch was 24. They are an inspiration.

Today we were back hanging sheet-rock. This time for Miss Lana W. When we arrived this morning Miss Lana was sitting in a car in front of her home. She was in the hospital having knee surgery when the storm hit. A friend helped her leave during the evacuation of the hospital. They tried to head for Chicago where they had people who could help them, but they got stuck in the traffic that had stopped in the highway just north of Lake Ponchartrain (for the most part, the flooding was south of the lake). Complications with her knee surgery forced them to get her to a hospital in Alabama. She was delighted to meet the people working on her home and I felt I could sense some hope as she saw it beginning to take shape. Her neighborhood is ravaged, but some homes have been completely and beautifully restored on her block. Her home was flooded to a point high on the walls but not submerged: so the demolition crew was able to spare the top couple of feet of wall which is enough to include the original bright boarders around the ceiling: I think she'll like that.

But on to the volunteers: they are a young, upbeat group of souls. Male and female, all with a tool or clipboard within their reach. I didn't learn as much about them individually as I would have liked, but time was short and the noise of power tools loud. There's also the generator chugging along on the side porch. (Miss Lana's home has no electricity yet, either.) But here's a quick snapshot of just two of them. John has quit his job and is taking a hiatus for an extended period to work on rebuilding homes in the 9th Ward. Eventually he is headed for Harvard Divinity School. Ben just graduated from high school last year and has delayed college for a year to work in the 9th Ward. They are both from Boston as I recall.

There were others working with us today and many more young people wandering around the shop and office, headed to various work sites around the neighborhood. Many of these "kids" have been here for months, sleeping on bunk beds, eating at a picnic table next to the small tool shed in the front yard, playing basketball on a lone hoop on a pole at the edge of the street. There is a quiet resolve to get the job done. An exception to the youth is Joe; he wears a shirt that says "not your average Joe" and he is not. He is working as one of the management staff here and works odd jobs 1 day a week to help support his volunteer habit. He has been here several months if I have my facts correct. There is also Matt, another young team leader. Matt has been here since last September when officially began it's rebuilding work.

As I understand it, will train unskilled volunteers. So a person coming here is not only helping to rebuild, but learning a craft at the same time. They appear to be weaving themselves into the fabric of the neighborhood and certainly into the lives of the volunteers.

At one point today an ice-cream truck came down the street. We all dropped our tools and headed for the front yard as one. Standing in the street eating ice cream and telling jokes, with a warm breeze blowing and a strong sense of hope among the ruins provided me with one of those clear moments of pure joy that are all too rare. One of those times when you live only in that moment for what it is and everything else melts away. (OK, not the ice cream; we were eating it too fast for it to melt.) It occurred to me that many of the things that happened here demonstrated a lot of things wrong with our great country, and the seeming neglect since the storm hype has died is appalling. But these people "on the ground" here in the 9th Ward (and other areas that were devastated in this city) demonstrate a hell of a lot of things that are right about this country.

Check out and get a sense of the growing trend of collectively rebuilding New Orleans with the most basic denominator of our way of government; the citizens themselves.

Herman Johansen

Friday, May 2, 2008

things are really moving!

herman, tom, dori, susan and rae ann

the following is a post from herman johansen, a recent volunteer helping us rebuild the lower ninth ward, one house at a time. i promise to get some new rick prose-generated info up soon, right now i'm totally up to my eyeteeth in running what is becoming one of the largest and most-productive rebuild organizations in new orleans.

and wasn't it just a few posts ago that i was talking about how to start a new organization? things are flying along, and i want to thank every one who has supported us so far, in particular, jeff osborn and terri lang and my amazing board of directors and, last but certainly not least, my hand-picked team of superheroes who get up every day in the most devastated neighborhood in america and fight the good fight. i love you all!

and, now, here's herman's post:

"What a day. We spent today in the lower 9th Ward. There are signs of life there, but so many desolate areas. It is an amazing amalgamation of hope and despair. The organization I actually worked with today is, a very grass roots group working out of a house they bought in the 9th Ward and rebuilding homes specifically in that neighborhood. Some of the volunteers there are staying for weeks or even months at a time. I was assigned to work on Eula's house. It turns out that Eula is both typical and unique.

Eula is a "Betsy Baby" having been age 5 when Hurricane Betsy hit in (I believe) 1965. She recounted the story of how her family was rescued by boat but she was accidentally nearly knocked overboard when someone shifted the weight in the boat. Ever since, she "leaves every time there is a hurricane" based on the respect for their potential damage she learned as a child. So as Katrina approached, Eula and her family headed for higher ground. When the levee's broke, Eula's home was completely underwater, as in the water level was above the roof of her home. Only 1 brother stayed behind. He was injured yet swam through the water in their neighborhood helping to rescue some elderly neighbors. After the storm, Eula and 29 of her relatives spent weeks living in 1 home that belongs to her cousin. Eventually some of them found other temporary housing in the area of the cousin's home or other cities around the south and Texas.

Eula had insurance. Eula paid her mortgage a few months in advance to make sure she would never lose her home. She is devoted to her family, her neighborhood. Her Mother has lived all her life in the 9th Ward. She had the same insurance company. That insurance company determined that Eula had a legitimate claim with destruction from the wind and rain, etc. Her mother's claim has so far been denied based on destruction caused by flooding, which policies don't cover. Eula's Mom is 68, diabetic and hypertensive. She was grieving and depressed and wanted to return home, but her house was a complete loss. So Eula takes part of her insurance money and buys her mother a flood damaged but salvagable house in the 9th Ward. She didn't want her Mom to rebuild on her original lot as only one other home on that block is now occupied. Eula then takes the balance of her insurance money and starts a new home on her old lot. She pays for the foundation, the framing, the room, etc. She buys furniture and materials at flea markets. She applies to various federal, state, and charitable organizations to help her finish and get back on her feet. She is denied all assistance because, by spending some of her insurance money to help her mother, she has "misappropriated funds." Finally she applied to; they approved her application and have supplied volunteer labor to work on the house. Today I and two teammates refurbished and worked on the two bathroom sink cabinets (both used and in various states of rough condition) so that sinks can be installed and ready for the plumber she has contracted to come tomorrow. Then we hung some blinds in the kitchen to replace the paper taped over the windows to keep the curious or opportunists from peeking inside. Caulking and other minor jobs were included.

The city won't turn the utilities on until after inspection. Eula is rushing to get licensed plumbers and electricians out to complete their part. She is confident that the city will deny her approval at least once if not twice. That's the "way they do it" she says. The power we used for the saws and drills today comes from a lone extension cord run to the FEMA trailer parked in the front yard that her brother lives in. FEMA will take it back soon and Eula seems almost relieved. Not because it's sitting in her yard, but because she worries that he will get sick from the formaldehyde poisoning. And by the way, when the government placed it there, they covered her sewer lines.

She tells stories of neighbors and friends who came back right away, but Eula didn't do that because she knew that they "would be taken advantage of" by contractors and suppliers and would be "vulnerable" at such an emotional time. But now she is almost home and is anxious to move in.

Sadly, to this point, her story is typical. The following is somewhat unique.

Eula seems to have no bitterness or anger. It may be there, but it doesn't show if it is. She speaks of how "lucky" she is. She watched on TV and heard stories from friends of those who had to lay relatives aside in the Superdome with handwritten name tags on their dead bodies. There are those whose insurance has not paid (like her Mom). There are others who didn't evacuate or had no where to go or who didn't plan ahead. She tells her story with little emotion; she states it as fact, but those facts won't dampen her spirit. She has family, she will very soon be living in her own home again. She has neighbors, she has a heart full of love. I'm a smart-ass and start to kid her about various things. She laughs and proves herself quite capable of holding her own in a battle of sarcasm and wit. The master bath sink is off-center 3/8 of an inch. It bugs the perfectionist streak in me and I mention it to her. She tells me it will "ruin her home:" then she laughs and says "thanks for being here."

In her presence, I somehow feel inadequate and ungrateful for all that I have, yet inspired to be a better person. She agrees to pose for a picture with us. It's pure selfishness on my part. I want to look at it and be reminded of her spirit; of her laugh and slap on the shoulder as we kidded around in the midst of all this pain and suffering.

After knowing Eula only a few hours I decide her family and neighbors are indeed lucky bastards after all."

Herman Johansen

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Orleans...

(what follows is a recent email message from volunteer, cory phinneron, to friends and family, in the interest of giving readers something other than my bloviational maundering [not sure if either of those are words, but they sound good to me]. what follows are cory's words, as he wrote 'em)

...or rather, the condition that the part of new orleans
that i have seen is in...

i've been working in the lower ninth ward with a
group, the group is
solid. at times it feels scattered, organizing large groups of volunteers coming in and out for only a few days, but at the end of the day, progress is being made, steadily. needs more skilled volunteers. often, electrical, plumbing and framing keeps progress held up because unskilled volunteers can't do it. beyond that, people who have done sheetrock or insulation of anything else can drastically improve the speed at which the houses get completed. is in the stage of rebuilding houses.
they are rapidly growing and ready to branch out to an
urban gardening project as well as a social services
branch, focusing on psychological support to both the
residents of long term rebuilding as well the
volunteers who are down here long term.

the lower ninth ward is somewhat of a rectangle.
roughly 2x4 miles. the southwestern part is the holy
cross neighborhood, and that's where we are working.
the northwestern part was closest to the levee
breaches, so much of the land up there is still
completely desolate. as you move from the
northwestern tip away from the levee, you go from no
houses, to a few houses still uninhabitable, to maybe
half the houses still standing but mainly
uninhabitable, to most of the houses standing in some
sort of state of repair - with some finished, some
rebuilt, and some 'blighted', meaning there are no
signs of return since katrina. there are few stores that have opened up. and for once, i wish wal-mart would open up. but wal-mart sits there closed because the store would be losing money if it opened, although it would be providing much needed supplies (including $4 prescriptions) at a close location.

the holy cross neighborhood is slowly but steadily
being rebuilt. most of the money seems to be coming
from insurance, FEMA, and private funding such as
non-profit organizations or the homeowners. insurance
coverage is ridiculous. one example: insurance
covered the lost roof of the house, but did not cover
the entire house that was lost since the roof was
ripped off and everything was ruined. insurance
companies are trying hard not to pay, and residents
have to fight steadily to get the money they are owed.
FEMA has a bad rap but i don't actually know much
about their support.

the holy cross neighborhood seems to have a strong
community network. they were already having community meetings before katrina, so it makes sense that they have pulled together faster than other neighborhoods. rebuilding in holy cross is going along in a
conscious sense, with attention being paid to
sidewalks and community centers and neighborhood gardens and supporting the
residents through services such as legal help. holy cross is also known for it's focus on
green rebuilding and sustainable design.

most of the lower ninth ward feels like a construction
site, if it doesn't feel desolate. other parts of new
orleans that were flooded are completely unnoticable
as being damaged now. the levees are being rebuilt
higher in richer neighborhoods. and there is always
the underlying problem that maybe some of these
neighborhoods shouldn't be rebuilt because they are so
low (and, as one might guess, these dangerous areas
are mostly inhabited by the poor).

not one school is open in the lower ninth ward.

on a lighter note... the residents and homeowners that
i've worked for and with are incredible patient,
surprisingly. i guess they have been out of their
homes so long that they really want to see everything
done right. there's no rushing, and the focus is on
getting the job done right. many residents are ready to return. all the residents we are working for are thrilled at the completion of each stage of their house.'s list of residences to work on is over 100. several residents live 20 minutes or more outside the lower ninth ward, staying with family or friends, and drive in everyday to work on their houses. their energy seems endless and is amazing.

the lower ninth ward is still no where near rebuilt.
residents set their sights on 10 years to finish this.
it's amazing how devasted it is, given the time since
katrina. there are contractors down here who are
leaving the job half finished and stealing the money.
there are contractors that do a damn good job. there
are homeowners working all sorts of strange hours to
get themselves or friends back into houses. and there
are several volunteer groups working down here. after
working with for 3 weeks overall, i am
grateful to have found such a well organized, well
intentioned, well motivated group of people working to
support a cause that has not recieved the help that it
rightly deserves.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

mardi gras, baby!

yes, we decorate for mardi gras...

my apologies, this post won't really be about mardi gras, but i find those two words catch folks' attention in a special way. it really is the biggest, baddest party in the universe, even if it does distract our volunteers for a couple of days, but, hey, they work hard for nothing most of the time, so let 'em party, i say!

at any rate, we had a pretty great mardi gras season in the lower nine, for reasons that had little or nothing to do with carnival. i arrived back in january and was greeted by project coordinator, matt sheard, who was holding up the certificate of appreciation we'd just received from the holy cross neighborhood association. this is a great bunch of people, and a group with which we are developing an increasingly important working relationship by the day, so, to be honored by them was truly seen by us as a recognition of our place in the neighborhood.

matt sheard and matt grigsby (project manager), with the rest of our long-term volunteers and about a dozen short-termers, had gotten our plumbing and rough electrical inspections done, and had 80% of our headquarters building sheetrocked in a little over two weeks - an amazing feat for a group of mostly amateurs. part of what spurred them on was the presence of bob and mel, volunteers from wisconsin with a ton of building experience, who pretty much ran a sheetrock bootcamp while they were with us. and that's the way it goes most of the time. just when the skilled members of our staff feel like they have just as many unskilled volunteers as they can possibly train and supervise, someone shows up with skills and tools and pitches in and energizes projects and leaves feeling like he or she has really accomplished something. and we have that much more work done on a resident's house and moving in day comes that much closer.

mel and bob in miss eula's house

the good news kept coming in the following days, we were on a roll. first we received word that we would be receiving a grant that will allow us to hire contractors to re-wire and re-plumb 50 houses in the coming year. these are the trickiest jobs for us to get done, as they require licensed contractors to apply for the appropriate permits and, then, in order for us to get the work done cost-effectively, we have to find contractors who will allow our staff and volunteers to do as much of the work as they think we can safely undertake. but, we've found a couple of contractors who are committed to helping us get the work done and things are looking hopeful that we'll be able to deliver the 50 houses. the money's not in the bank, yet, but we're ironing out the details as i write this, and we have contractors standing by waiting to get to work. of course, a grant of that size was contingent upon us having our 501(c)(3) status, which readers of this blog will know we've been trying to obtain for some time now. but, as of january 28th, we are now officially certified, sanctified and legally a tax-exempt organization! that means, when you go to our web site and click on the make a donation button , you will be able to claim a tax-exemption for that contribution, so, really, there's no excuse for not doing it right now . and, if you don't feel comfortable making a contribution online, just mail us a check or leave a large satchel of cash inside the door of 6018 el dorado street when you're in town...

we hit a double this last week in public relations when we had an article appear on the metro section front page of sunday's new orleans times-picayune, while also being featured thursday night on wwl-tv. while neither of these press reports has compelled a single person to contribute a dime to the effort, it certainly shows that we are making progress in terms of being taken seriously as a group that is doing worthwhile work in the community. so, if you're reading this blog, please pass it along to anyone you know who might be able to send a little gelt our way. i know, i know, i keep mentioning money, and it's rude, but i gotta tell you, we're in a position right now to get so much more work done in the next months and years, and the more money we raise, the more families we can get back in their homes - faster and more affordably. it's that simple. more homes rebuilt means more families living in the neighborhood, means the city has to provide more services (schools, hospitals, police and fire stations) for more people, means businesses will start to come back, means more people will move back, etc.. your contribution to this effort, however small, will help this community come back to life, and that's the truth. end of fundraising plea, i promise...

oh, and one last big thing, which may not seem like such a big deal to most folks, but we have rented a three-bedroom apartment for our half-dozen or so long-term volunteers. this means they don't have to sleep on cots in a houseful of short-termers, have their own bathroom and can make a midnight snack, if they so choose, without waking up said houseful of short-termers. they have promised to keep it clean and vermin-free, and we owe a debt of gratitude to our neighbor, antoine turner, for letting us know he had an apartment for rent (among other things!), and to jeff osborn for agreeing to come up with six months worth of rent to make it happen (among other thing, also).

other than those big highlights, the work just proceeds apace. we now have 79 home rebuild applications on our waiting list - 6 in progress and three more to start as soon as we get the grant money for the systems work. in addition to matt and matt, our volunteer coordinator, lauren smith, is helping us keep track of the short-term volunteers, who will be flooding into the city in the next couple of months for various schools' february vacations and spring breaks. we've come up with an organizational flow chart, courtesy of matt s., and are getting rather scarily organized for what must look like to most folks a pretty motley group. our headquarters building is within a couple of weeks of completion, the telephone and internet service will be installed the middle of this month, and we even managed to fix the mysterious leak in the roof that defied us for a while. all in all, things are looking pretty good (which phrase makes me picture larry david saying it, "pre-tty, pre-tty, pre-tty gooood!")

that's it, stay tuned and good night, little indian red...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

fundraising ideas

How about a Hunks of the Lower Ninth Ward calendar?

Matt, Mr. October >

Darren, Mr. April

or Hot Chicks Gone Wild with Tools?

Well, they're just ideas, after all, anyone got any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

i'm back (and forth)

As it's a new year, I've resolved not to feel badly about posting so sporadically to the old blog. Things are what they are and my life is crazy these days, but crazy in a good way, I guess.

Since my last post, I've been back and forth to New Orleans twice, maybe three times, and spent a little over a week out of the country visiting family over the holidays. In the Lower Nine, here's what's happening:

As of the first of the year, Emergency Communities has officially ceased operations in the Lower Nine, which brings a feeling of sadness to see the former community center closed and empty, while at the same time we've inherited a great group of long-term volunteers and lots of tools and equipment which will make our work easier to do. Our headquarters building on El Dorado Street is in the final stages of getting re-wired and we're working on the plumbing right now, with the help of local contractor Bill Caron. We got our logo painted on the side of the tool shed with help of happy volunteers Genevieve, Jaclyn and Jennifer, and we put up street signs so that now resident can finally find us!

In addition to Matt Grigsby, our project manager since last October, we now have Matt Sheard working with us in the same capacity. Matt S. is the former site manager of the E.C. center in the Lower Nine, with almost 2 years of experience working in post-Katrina New Orleans, so we're lucky to have his help and expertise. Our old friend Darren McKinney is also pitching in to continue offering the help and guidance he's been expending in our behalf for the last year, and perseveres in his quest to single-handedly rebuild the neighborhood. And, he looks good in those funky sunglasses!

Darren is a true Lower Nine superhero, and everyone involved with thanks his or her lucky stars every day that he's on our side.
Right now we've got three houses awaiting electrical inspections, one of which is almost finished, the others waiting for us to get in and insulate and put up sheetrock. Our list of residents asking for our help gets longer by the week, and we are hoping to be able to finish 20 homes this year to the point where families can return. Of course, this means we need money, and while fundraising has been proceeding at a modest pace, we are still waiting for the IRS to grant us our 501(c)(3) status so we can begin fundraising and grant-writing with a vengeance. Our application has finally landed on the desk of someone with a name, and if the three pages of clarifications, emendations and questions we received last week is any indication, it may be a while before we are deemed worthy. If you have perused this blog in the past, you may notice that there are certain links missing, which I had to delete to satisfy the IRS case manager's fear that traffic might be directed from this blog to for-profit businesses, which, as they were links to sites of people who have donated their time and efforts to creating our web site, I figured was only good form. So, there's a learning curve here, is what I'm saying.

With any luck, some of our long-term volunteers may be talked in to adding their two cents worth here in the near future, so we should be able to keep pictures and posts more up to date, which would be a good thing.

Life goes on, the work goes on, and everyone is invited to come down and help us out, which is about all I have to say for this cold winter's evening...