Passionaries Serving in New Orleans: First Baptist Church of Hanson, Mass., and TABCOM
In this 10th anniversary year of hurricanes Katrina and Rita’s destruction of the Gulf Coast, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) presents “Passionaries Serving in New Orleans,” a series about the volunteers and residents who have been faithfully rebuilding New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward through ABHMS’ “Home Mission: ‘Til the Work is Done.”
First Baptist Church of Hanson, Mass.’ Silvia Mauerhofer, 70, and Ellen Lane, 75, have each volunteered in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward seven times. In fact, “second home” is how Mauerhofer describes the area, where, between volunteer duties, she enjoys eating red rice and beans and sleeping in a “special” princess bed. And, last year, Lane celebrated her birthday while volunteering there.
“Even the hot weather doesn’t bother us because we know that we’re doing what we were meant to do,” says Lane. “We were meant to come here [to the Lower 9th Ward] and to be with these people [residents and other volunteers] and help in any way that we can.”
Their activities have ranged from walking goats to gutting houses. Not even a broken right wrist could deter Lane from painting a house—she simply learned to paint with her left hand.
While both Mauerhofer and Lane are known for joyfully embracing any task requested of them, the dedicated volunteers admit that their favorite aspect is gardening—especially in Dauphine Community Garden, where they relish learning new techniques from other gardeners.
“We created an herbal spiral, and it came out really good,” says Mauerhofer. “So now I’m going to go home, buy myself some bricks and make one myself in my garden.”
Lane adds: “I have a bottle garden from New Orleans. Now I’m going to make baled-hay raised gardens—that was today’s lesson. So I always learn something to take back home.”
The two are impressed by the resilience of residents with whom they’ve connected over the years. One man’s house was under water, Lane recalls, and he was rescued by boat from a second-story window.
“He is still hoping to get into his house,” she says. “But he is moving on as best he can.”
Mauerhofer says she learned one woman’s heart-wrenching story during one-on-one conversation on the ride to a home-improvement store.
“What the people went through, I don’t think we can imagine,” Mauerhofer says. “If we didn’t go through something like that, we just don’t know.”
Both women want American Baptists to know that Lower 9th Ward residents not only express their gratitude to the volunteers but also work alongside them.
“They all care and are grateful for anything we do,” says Lane. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much, but they are just wonderful in their praise.”
In addition to their usual August participation in ABHMS’ “Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done,” both Lane and Mauerhofer returned to the Lower 9th Ward this past April with a group of 14 other individuals from Massachusetts and Maine for a week’s mission organized by the Rev. Sandra Dorsainvil, director of Mission and Stewardship at American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts (TABCOM).
Sponsored by TABCOM and ABHMS, the group painted interiors and exteriors on Delery Street and St. Claude Avenue and installed a ramp at the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development’s Chartres Street site.
“The team’s skills and talents continue to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward,” says Dorsainvil, who organized a mission trip to New Orleans last April, too. “We thank you [the American Baptist family] for your continued prayers, financial support and words of encouragement.”