After a long drive yesterday down the state of Alabama and across the bottom of Mississippi to New Orleans, it was a nice change of pace to spend the day outside. Our group worked with the St. Paul’s Homecoming project today, more specifically with their Hike for Hurricane KaTREEna project. The wonderful people in charge of St. Paul’s originally were stationed in Lakeview, which lost approximately 10,000 homes to Hurricane Katrina, but after spending a few years rehabilitating that area they decided they could spread the resources they had accumulated to other neighborhoods. St. Paul’s is now located in the Gentilly neighborhood which lost 30,000 homes to the hurricane and ensuing flood. Although St. Paul’s definitely does a lot of construction work in their neighborhoods, they also have the KaTREEna project, which includes planting trees and other greenery as well as mulching and pruning the things they plant. Today we had the opportunity to help with this project by mulching around the trees, pruning the trees, and picking up trash on the medians we were working on.
St. Paul’s works with the city in that city workers drop off mulch on the street medians every few blocks and the St. Paul workers move the mulch down the medians placing it around the trees and putting the leftover mulch in buckets to place in other areas in the neighborhood. Working on the medians of Broad street really allowed us to see the people of New Orleans more so than if we had just been working on one house. As the day progressed, people would come outside and sit on the porches of their classic New Orleans homes conversing with their neighbors and simply watching life happen. It was such a blessing to actually experience the life of the city while also helping to make the city a better place. I take for granted how much a nicely kept neighborhood makes a difference in happiness and well-being. At Belmont we almost ignore the flowers and trees or we laugh at the amount of greenery Belmont invests in, but it really does make a difference. Because of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans lost 100,000 trees and St. Paul is working hard to create a better, more beautiful environment for the residents of New Orleans neighborhoods.
We also got a chance to see a large majority of the Gentilly neighborhood as we were driving to our work place. I was amazed to see the number of houses that are still in the middle of renovation or completely abandoned even though its been nearly six years after the hurricane. In our third year writing class we learned about the markings rescue workers would leave on houses to show that the house had been checked, how many people were found in the house, and if the workers made it had safely. I was shocked to see how many of these marking remained, even on houses that had been completely redone. At first I thought that such reminders must leave the residents with little peace, unable to move on because the remnants of Katrina are still here. Yet the more I thought about it, leaving the rescue workers’ markings could also bring a sense of pride. New Orleans was once devastated, as the markings reveal, but the residents have worked hard to rehabilitate their home and have overcome the destruction the hurricane brought. We are so blessed to be able to come be a part of this city by helping to restore New Orleans to each original state, or better. New Orleans is a true community and its an honor to have a very small share of its culture.