Former President Joins New Orleans for Weeklong Build and Celebration
NEW ORLEANS (May 28, 2008) — The week’s biggest highlight could only be the visit from President Carter, but from Sunday, May 11, 2008, until Friday, May 16, 2008, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) turned their part of the 2008 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (JRCWP) on the Gulf Coast into a weeklong celebration of their contribution to New Orleans over the last 25 years. Through the generosity of Tulane Medical Center in partnership with HCA and Entergy, NOAHH was able to welcome hundreds of volunteers to New Orleans for a week of hard work and great friends.
The work project proudly bore its new title to honor the president’s wife’s dedication and continued support. In New Orleans, these beacons of hope arrived on Wednesday, May 14, 2008. With them came almost 1000 volunteers and visitors, including musician and Habitat supporter Harry Connick, Jr., Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, and NOAHH Executive Director Jim Pate. In choosing the Gulf Coast as their silver anniversary worksite, the Carters brought much needed attention to the ailing Gulf Coast in the wake of the 2005 hurricane season. Visiting cities in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, they brought awareness, goodwill, and experience to the build sites, and hope to the future homeowners around the entire Gulf Coast region.
They spoke to the press of the situation in New Orleans. While President Carter addressed the tragedy of the city’s condition and the need for volunteers (600 a day on the Gulf Coast), Lt. Gov. Landrieu spoke of the opportunities to be had in the city and the chance to help make New Orleans a better place overall. Harry Connick, Jr., humbly claiming merely to be a singer of love songs, spoke of the music of New Orleans and the need to preserve the heritage and culture this city nearly lost to Hurricane Katrina.
That night, volunteers, staff, homeowners, sponsors, and special guests attended a celebration at the Sugar Mill, hosted by NOAHH. Starting with a second line from the hotel to the venue, the event featured Musicians’ Village homeowners Troy Sawyer (with the Troy Sawyer Trio) and Bob French (and his Original Tuxedo Jazz Band) performing with their bands. President and Mrs. Carter took the stage for a few words (and a rendition of “When the Saints Come Marching In” with special guest Harry Connick, Jr.), and later in the evening, NOAHH was presented with the Shine the Light Award from Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu.
NOAHH’s goals were to dedicate 25 finished houses started since the first of the year, begin 15 more and bring them to dry-in status, and to blitz build 7 houses from Monday to Friday, foundation to finish. Though a little rain washed out a few of the dedications and delayed a few of the dry-ins, volunteers came out to the blitz houses everyday, from sun up to well past sun down to get them to their goals. All new construction began in the Upper Ninth Ward, but NOAHH held dedications on the West Bank, in the Hollygrove neighborhood, and in Central City as well.
On Sunday night, NOAHH kicked off the events with opening ceremonies in Woldenberg Park with Senator David Vitter there to speak a few words to the volunteers. Gospel choir Shades of Praise, featuring Musicians’ Village homeowner Michael Harris, opened the ceremonies with inspiration and joy, and Musicians’ Village homeowner Shamarr Allen brought the whole crowd to their feet with his band, the Shamarr Allen Band, which featured fellow homeowners Calvin Johnson and Stephen Walker.
Throughout the week, 800 volunteers came each day to pound nails and put up dry wall, install insulation and lift trusses. Despite the rain (and makeshift slip and slide) on Thursday and Friday, volunteers still made it out to the blitz houses to bring them to completion. And though the skies were clear the first part of the week, the volunteers still faced the sun, with temperatures up in the 90s. To get the job done, they even stayed well into the night.
Each day, the Salvation Army provided food for the volunteers and staff on site in the Upper Ninth Ward. During lunch, bands featuring members from NOAHH’s Musicians’ Village played for the crowd. Otra (featuring Gabriel Velasco), Soul Rebels Brass Band (featuring Alfred Growe), J. D. and the Jammers (featuring J. D. Hill) and special guest and fellow homeowner Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, and homeowner Ricardo Crespo all played.
By Friday afternoon, the rain had mostly cleared, and several hundred volunteers remained on the sites for the dedications of our 7 blitz built houses. A few had one or two minor touches left to go, but most of them were past their set goal for the week. In a simultaneous event all down Law St., the 7 houses were dedicated to their owners and the traditional bread, wine, Bible, tools, and keys were handed over. Afterward, volunteers, staff, partner families, and members of the community were treated to barbecue and music in the streets.