This I Believe

Shirley - Kalamazoo, Michigan
Entered on February 16, 2007

This I Believe

By Shirley H. Showalter

I believe all people deserve a roof and four walls to call their own.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the gulf coast of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, they created a 600-mile wide swath of destruction that displaced 850,000 people from their homes. This displacement continues to heap pain on a region that has become increasingly cynical—about elected officials, insurance companies, and rip-off artists who thrive on the tragedy of others.

A February 2007 service trip took me to Slidell, Louisiana, 35 miles northeast of New Orleans. I heard lots of horror stories during my week as a housing rehabilitation volunteer. One woman had flood insurance on a home worth $150,000 but received only a $9,000 settlement from her insurance company. Another elderly couple paid a contractor $100,000 to rebuild their home. The contractor took the money and ran. I learned that the suicide rate among 30-55 year-olds has escalated dramatically. Since January 1, there have been 22 murders in New Orleans.

There’s another side to this disaster, however, one the director of our volunteer effort summarized in a sentence: “The American Spirit is alive and well!” Because of individual volunteers, the houses of the dispossessed are being rebuilt. This single organization has rebuilt 230 homes, focused on a mission of serving “the least, the last, and the lost.” It is one of six regional projects in the state of Louisiana. It is funded by 80 organizations, 39 of them faith-based.

So far 12,340 volunteers from 44 states and 8 foreign countries have contributed $8.9 million in free labor to NRDI. While they are there, they also buy food, souvenirs, and gas, contributing to the local economy. There are 180 houses on the waiting list, and volunteers are still needed.

Every time a home is rebuilt, a family reunites and hope is gradually restored. Now, when I think of the Gulf Coast tragedy, I picture Michelle, the owner of the house we helped to rebuild. Her children will be able to move out of a FEMA trailer and into their own rooms soon. She will once again be able to look at the stars from a skylight I helped to clean.

My wish for Michelle and all those who were dispossessed is this—that they will all regain a sense of place and belonging. The volunteers who clear debris from between the double glass of skylights are not only wiping away dirt, they want to offer hope.

When I look out the window from my own home now, I will send a blessing through the stars for Michelle and her family—soon to be tucked safely, I hope, under their own roof and four walls.