Volunteers still rebuilding New Orleans 5 years later


by Bill Capo / Eyewitness News


Posted on August 27, 2010 at 6:24 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 27 at 7:22 PM

As the rain fell outside the window he was helping to frame, Chicago contractor John Maley stood in a humid Arabi room, volunteering for the St. Bernard Project. Maley is working by feel, because he is blind, and feeling good about his work, because he is making a difference.  

"Came down in November of '05 initially. Got back to Chicago, hated the job, winter was setting in. I said screw it, came down here, spent like 2 1/2 years."

Maley is one of 26,000 volunteers from around the world who have helped the St. Bernard Project gut and rebuild over three hundred homes, like Sharon Williams' house. 

"I told them I don't look at them as St. Bernard Project volunteers, I look at them as angels. I say I was blessed by the angels, so we had many angels."  

Volunteers have played a vital role in the Katrina recovery since just after the storm, willingly tackling the dirtiest jobs. 

"It smells awful in here, it's awful, the most awful smell I've ever smelled when you find water leaking out of a refrigerator or something," said Americorps Team Member Karen Axelson in March, 2006.  

Over 25,000 volunteers have helped Catholic Charities gut and rebuild 3,200 homes.

"I moved a dresser and a rat ran out, it was about that long, and cockroaches, and just about every kind of bug is back there," Leo Costello, of Dubuque, Iowa said in November, 2006.  "But you're still here helping? That's right."   

"We pray for hope, and we talk about hope, but the volunteers as they go out using their hands and hearts to feed people and to love people, they are God's sign of hope in our world today," said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. 

Archbishop Aymond worked up a sweat at Second Harvest Food Bank along with 160 volunteers packing 4,000 boxes with supplies for the next emergency. 

"I'm out here in the sun," smiled Volunteer Dinah Williams.  "It's 100 degrees, I'm about to pass out. You going to get me a cup of water? But we having a good time, all jokes aside, we're having a good time."   

And five years after Katrina, the volunteers are still coming, and still so excited they are inspiring others to get involved, like Sharon Williams' daughter.   "They inspired her to want to do it, so she been here volunteering since they started, the whole summer, and she say when this house is finished, she wants to help on other houses.