ABHMS continues ‘Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done’ 11 years after hurricanes devastate New Orleans
Rallied by morning prayers, camaraderie and Christian songs, 186 volunteers from 21 American Baptist churches, 17 states and 15 regions across the United States and Puerto Rico braved a week’s worth of heat and humidity recently to minister as the hands and feet of Christ during American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) “Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done” in New Orleans. They worked in homes, community gardens, a playground, a charter school, a horse-rescue ranch, an animal shelter and a food pantry, to name a few.
Although it’s been 11 years since hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast, plenty of work remains to be done in certain New Orleans neighborhoods.
At orientation on the first day, Victoria Goff, ABHMS national coordinator, Volunteer Mobilization Ministries, asked rhetorically, “Why concentrate on the Lower 9th Ward?” only to provide the answer: “Because injustices were done.”
A brief drive through particular areas makes obvious streets riddled with potholes and homes in need of great repair—some unlivable, with walls stripped down to studs. Several homeowners told stories of being bilked by so-called contractors who accepted large sums of money and never returned to finish the work.
Burnell Colton’s variety store/barbershop/beauty shop/fast food place/laundromat is the only businesses in which ABHMS volunteers have done repair work over the years.
“The reason why I felt it was important to do it [volunteer for Colton] was because the Lower 9th Ward was a food desert [after the hurricanes],” said Goff.
Colton opened the business as a stand that sold “snowballs” (also known as “snow cones” or “shaved ice,” depending on one’s geographical location), little by little raising money and adding new features as requested by residents, he says.
He keeps on his mobile phone a photograph of a resident who rode to the market on a bicycle, seeking a place to launder two bags of dirty clothes that he’d lugged along. That incident inspired Colton to add a laundromat. When Ellen DeGeneres got wind of the situation, says Colton, she featured Colton on her TV talk show and donated several washers and dryers to the cause.
Volunteers measured, sawed, hammered and drilled as part of the nascent stage of Colton’s next goal: to turn the abandoned building behind the market into an Internet café for youth. In addition, volunteers painted picnic tables that sit between the market and what will be the café.
“I’m just an average guy, but I have above-average dreams,” Colton said. “My dream is to get my neighborhood up to speed so that people can come back.”
To meet more of 2016’s “Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done” volunteers and those they’ve helped, see the following: