Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - Gladys Willis says her prayers have been answered.
“Thank you God, you helped me one more time,” she said. “You're getting me ready for the new year.”
For Willis, the new year will come with a new roof. Her old roof failed during Hurricane Isaac, collapsing in her kitchen and threatening to cave in her bedroom.
Willis, an 80-year-old diabetic, lost both of her legs after Hurricane Katrina. They were infected while she evacuated in flood water.
She had no money for repairs.
That's where Charlie Barnes comes in. The AmeriCorps alumni spearheaded an effort this summer to give Willis a safe roof over her head.
On Saturday, volunteers finished painting Willis’ ceiling, the final step in the repair process.
“I wasn't about to let an elder in my community who lives blocks down the street from me suffer a ceiling caving in on her in her sleep,” said Barnes. “The satisfaction in having it finally fixed and having this woman safely back into her home after the storm is repayment enough.”
Willis said none of this would have been possible without help from the entire community. Friends, neighbors, and nearby businesses donated money, non-profits donated tools, and volunteers donated their time.
Michael Collins, contractor and owner of The Other Bar, replaced her roof at cost.
“I say people are so wonderful, you know what I mean. I never been this happy in my life, you hear me,” Willis said. “After losing my legs, I was sad. But now, I'm back on top again, thanks to everybody who helped me.”
But there's one person who couldn't be here to help. A black shroud in front of Willis’ home marks the spot where volunteers will dedicate a plaque for Joseph Massenberg, 18. The AmeriCorps volunteer was gunned down in April, one month after moving to New Orleans.
“This service project is in his memory and in memoriam to him,” said Barnes.
It's a loss to which Gladys can relate. Two of her sons were murdered, too, at ages 19 and 22.
“Just like this family here, you know. I'm going to pray for them,” she said.
And after enduring so much, Willis said there's only one way to describe her house now.
“Like a castle. Like a castle.”
It’s a castle built by a community who cares.