Mission & Justice: Katrina Recovery in New Orleans, LA (NOLA)

Katrina devastated about 400 miles of the Gulf Coast in late August 2005.  The Mass. Conference of the United Church of Christ partnered with the Good Shepherd Church, UCC in Metairie, LA.

For the most up-to-date information about the Katrina work trips, check the website of Worcester Area Mission Society, UCC, also known as WAMS. (www.wamsucc.org/services-katrina-main.html)

The first couple of years were mostly deconstruction, but now it is reconstruction. Those trips need Skilled, Unskilled and Other-skilled, from age 16 up.

RECONSTRUCTION WORK: (www.wamsucc.org/katrina-construction-trips.html)

“We are trying to organize skilled professional and amateur carpenters and folks of little or no carpentry skill levels to help. Our goal is a team of 20 people, including 2 to 4 skilled folk to supervise the rest of the crew. Most tools are available on site. Materials can be purchased there.

People with electrical, plumbing, or flooring installation skills are urgently needed in the Gulf Coast.

In addition to skilled construction workers and others who are willing to learn to assist with the construction work – we can often arrange to use the special skills of teachers, educators and dramatists, social workers, therapists, bankers, medical professionals, and others.”

In April 2007 a pilot program got under way called Teacher to Teacher, that had some teachers and teens spending their week helping in the New Orleans schools. That program is also still ongoing.

TEACHER-TO-TEACHER: sharing ideas and support with the schools of New Orleans (www.wamsucc.org/katrina-teacher-teacher.html)

“A program sponsored by the Worcester Area Mission Society in partnership with the Good Shepherd UCC of Metairie, Louisiana, the Lisa Mains Saley Foundation for Kids (formerly lisa4kids.org) and the Massachusetts Conference, UCC.

February & April – school vacation weeks

The schools in Louisiana are among the poorest in the country. The wake of Hurricane Katrina has left the teachers and students demoralized as well as materially challenged. Will you help?

We are looking for teachers, teacher’s aids, and school librarians to go in pairs to a Gulf Coast school for the week, sharing their skills and being present to the staff and children.

We are also looking for folks interested in education who have other talents, such as drama, music, history or reenacting, to organize and present a dramatic road show that can travel from school to school for assemblies and have spin-off learning centers for schools that would like some classroom follow up in grades 3-8. The topic would probably be based on some theme of New England history.”

Monies, gift cards, prayer shawls, blankets, books, music instruments, etc., have been donated over the last several years, so that they may reach the wider community there. Below is a list that helps to show the breadth of the impact these trips have made (http://www.wamsucc.org/katrina-what-we-have-done.html):

“In partnership with The Massachusetts Conference, UCC and with the vision of Good Shepherd UCC in Metairie LA we have:

  • Sorted well over 20,000 pounds of books to be given to children and donated to area schools.
  • Bagged thousands of stuffed animals, which bring comfort to children who had none.
  • Created, carried to Good Shepherd and organized for delivery literally hundreds of prayer shawls, handmade quilts and handmade blankets, which are given to church members and to community members.
  • Carried down, in 2007, 30 musical instruments to Orleans Parish High Schools to help reestablish their music programs. (This first large donation has been followed by a continuing stream of smaller ones…)

Our participants from MA (including construction workers, teachers, social workers…) have:

  • Left thousands of dollars of gift certificates for Home Depot, Lowes, Target, and Walgreens. These have been used for local individuals who are rebuilding their homes.
  • Given tens of thousands of dollars to help rebuild – UCC churches and individual homes, to a crab fisherman for buying the traps he needed to begin to fish again, to schools for classroom supplies – library materials – sports equipment, and musical instruments.
  • Labored on 3 churches and close to 30 houses.
  • Been present to teachers and pupils, including reading to students and giving one-on-one lesson assistance.
  • Created curriculum-based road shows of theater and music and facilitated class-attended learning centers of geography, astronomy, math and science.
  • Helped dozens of people fill out Medicare D forms and saved them literally thousands of dollars that they were paying for prescription medications.
  • AND, in the last year, we have begun to train volunteers to travel to New Orleans to lead educational forums on Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR). This is training that we hope will begin to assist folks coping with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome kinds of symptoms.”

That partnership has brought some wonderful relationships with Gary & Karen Arndt, Carolyn Mains, Sheila Alred, and many others. My hope is that we maintain this connection throughout their regions need… and beyond.

In Jan. 2009, Gary Arndt retired from Good Shepherd Church, but he and his wife will remain in the region. We wish them both the Best!

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