Passionaries Serving in New Orleans: The late Ward McClendon

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 “Home Mission: ‘Til the Work is Done.”

Some links in this story open to videos.

Volunteer group
“Mack” McClendon (sitting front and center) with American Baptist volunteers
Among the American Baptists volunteering at The Lower 9th Ward Village is Gerald Thompson Sr., formerly of Rankin (Pa.) Christian Center (here with McClendon).

Perhaps Ward McClendon’s nicknames—“Mack” and “Uncle Joe”—were a testament to the fact that the long-time New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward resident was greatly loved and admired not only by his community but also the American Baptist volunteers who had been serving alongside him year after year to rebuild the area after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005. A selfless man and inspiration to many, McClendon died as this story was being written.

McClendon founded The Lower 9th Ward Village community center by purchasing an empty building, gutting it and transforming it into a safe haven where residents connect and obtain the services and information necessary for rebuilding their lives.

In addition, until he became terminally ill, McClendon had volunteered as manager of The Guerilla Garden, a community garden of fruit trees and vegetables planted and harvested by Lower 9th Ward residents.

American Baptist volunteers have served at both the community center and the garden, adopting both the projects and McClendon as their own.

“You guys have put the wind back in my sails,” McClendon said about American Baptist volunteers. “You have been a blessing. You have become family to me. When you think the hope is not there anymore, and a group like you guys comes in, it’s unbelievable. I never felt that my dream would become a reality until now. You guys have done that.”

Programs of The Lower 9th Ward Village include the “Where’s Your Neighbor?” initiative to build and maintain a self-sustaining community; video documentation of residents’ stories; town hall meetings; liaison services between community members and contractors; lot clearing; furniture restoration; selling and bartering produce from a rural farm; computer center with Internet access for adults and youth; recreation via gymnasium and basketball court; and health and wellness education.

Always humble, McClendon was quick to thank others for their service. “Most of these kids [volunteers] are young kids. This is their summer vacation. They can be somewhere partying,” he said. “But yet they chose to come to New Orleans to help an old man like me do something—some good—for someone else. That’s big to me.”

For additional information about and to register for “Home Mission: ’Til the Work is Done” and other volunteer mission opportunities, visit and click “Volunteer,” or contact Victoria Goff, ABHMS national coordinator, Volunteer Ministries, at, 1-800-222-3872, x2449, or 610-768-2449.