ABHMS volunteers return to New Orleans for 12th consecutive year

Top: Volunteers from California and Wisconsin at the Claiborne Avenue Hurricane Katrina Memorial in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Second from top: Volunteers visit with a resident at St. Margaret’s Daughters Home.
Second from bottom: The Rev. Gilbert Scie, pastor of Greater Little Zion Baptist Church, New Orleans.
Bottom: Volunteer Emma Burnside from Central Baptist Church, Westerly, Rhode Island.                      
Photos by Dr. Amber Picou-Broadnax


When hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) responded, committing to returning yearly for as long as necessary for the region to achieve full restoration. The mission continued this year—the 12th consecutive year—from July 30 to Aug. 5, when 136 volunteers from 17 states and 16 American Baptist regions across the United States and Puerto Rico traveled to New Orleans to repair dilapidated homes, renew neglected public spaces and heal disrupted lives.

Forty-three projects were completed, including 19 construction projects and 24 community service projects. The former included major home repair and painting as well as community garden and yard work. The latter included food sorting and delivery, school classroom preparation and Mardi Gras beads recycling as well as tasks at a food pantry, animal shelter and Bethel Community Baptist Church’s urban ministries, which features a thrift store and coffee shop.

“On Thursday, it rained hard, but that did not stop the volunteers,” said Victoria Goff, ABHMS national coordinator of Volunteer Mobilization Ministries. “They worked through the rain until the work was done.”

At the home of N’Daria and Sam Carter in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, Megan Roth, an eighth grader, and Destiny Alstrom, a seventh grader, both from First Baptist Church, Salt Lake City, were among volunteers who scraped paint from the exterior.

New Orleans’ code-enforcement agency recently informed the Carters via letter that they needed to attend to their home’s disrepair and their lot’s overgrown weeds. Because of limited funds, N’Daria—a retired IRS agent who now volunteers as a tax advocate—knew the family could not afford to hire professionals to do the work.

“After we got the weeds and vegetation under control, we began gutting the house,” she remembered. “Nothing could be saved. Even much of the wood had rotted.”

Thanks to ABHMS volunteers, N’Daria is closer to the dream of retiring in the home that has been in her family for 56 years.

“I’ll never forget y’all,” she said of the volunteers. “I know that, one day soon, I will sit in my house, with my children and grandchildren, and live out my days. I always knew I would return to my family home. Y’all are making that possible.”

At St. Margaret’s Daughters Home, volunteers led devotional services, sang hymns and interacted with residents, playing Bingo, helping with art projects, visiting the bed-bound and listening to their stories.

“When Katrina came, I went to my sister’s sister-in-law’s house in Georgia,” recalled a resident. “We had three cars—like in a caravan, you know? It was me, my husband, two sons, my oldest’s wife, and my sister and her family. It took us 22 hours! It was the slowest ride ever! We stayed there two weeks, but then my son found us a place in Texas, and we lived there for six months. Then me and my husband moved with my mom to Ponchatoula. We lived in an apartment for two years. I finally got to move back into my house in 2008—three years later.”

At the Claiborne Avenue Hurricane Katrina Memorial in the Lower Ninth Ward, volunteers from Wisconsin and California removed weeds and foreign grasses. Standing stoically in the background were light blue poles that signify the height of flood waters from 2005. As volunteers bent down to attend to their tasks, passersby expressed gratitude with friendly honks and waves.

Every year, for the past 12 years, we have planned, organized and coordinated all the sign-in sheets, bags, shirts, tasks, work sites and groups. But, most of all, we have prepared our minds and spirits for what seems to be the ever-present devastation of Hurricane Katrina,” said Dr. Amber Picou-Broadnax, a volunteer from Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, Calif. “We leave our homes and churches, with outstretched arms waving us off with messages of love and continued blessings. We arrive at Camp Restore, beleaguered by our travels, but ready to work. No task is too small. Every job is appreciated. Every volunteer is blessed. We are prepared to work until the job is done.”

Adapted from stories written by Dr. Amber Picou-Broadnax.