Rebuilding Together, Remembering Together

September 11 reminds us of the sacrifices that fire fighters and other first responders make for our country everyday.  On the 10th Anniversary of September 11, Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) will honor their commitment to our city with a rebuilding project that benefits fire fighters.  RTNO is partnering with the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) to commemorate this anniversary with a day of service.  RTNO and the NOFD will work together to complete two community revitalization projects.  As fire fighters assist RTNO with a home repair project, RTNO staff, AmeriCorps service members, and volunteers will complete repairs on an Orleans Parish stationhouse.   

RTNO is a program of the PreservationResourceCenter, a 501(c)(3) organization, and an affiliate of the national nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together Inc.  RTNO has been working to restore and revitalize the homes of low-income homeowners since 1988.  We focus on ensuring access to affordable housing and our rebuilding efforts enable homeowners to live in safety, warmth, and dignity while regaining their independence.

Since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the GulfCoastin 2005, RTNO has expanded from a locally oriented, once a year program into a year-round rebuilding effort for Orleans Parish’s most vulnerable homeowners. All repairs are done at mostly no cost to the homeowner using predominantly volunteer labor. Often these homeowners have exhausted all other resources and have turned to RTNO to finish the work. Program participants must own their home and have a total household income of less than 80% HUD area median income guidelines.  Priority is given to homeowners who are at least 60 years of age, experience a physical disability, act as the single guardian of minor children, or serve the community as a first responder.  RTNO works in eight target neighborhoods in Orleans Parish. 

As we move into the next phase of post-Katrina recovery in New Orleans, RTNO has begun to address the needs of the community in a broader scale by revitalizing neighborhood parks and community centers.  In the past year, RTNO worked in partnership with sponsors and the New Orleans Department of Recreation to build four play structures in neighborhoods across Orleans Parish.  The City of New Orleans also tapped RTNO to coordinate Fight the Blight Day—a large-scale event that occurs roughly every three months and brings volunteers together to beautify community space.

Recently, the NOFD approached RTNO to coordinate a volunteer project.  We believe that the September 11National Day of Service and Remembrance would be the perfect time to hold this event.  With the help of the NOFD, RTNO will recruit fire fighters from throughout Orleans Parish to volunteer.  Fire fighters will help RTNO work on home repair projects for some of our homeowners.  RTNO House Captains will oversee the work of the volunteer fire fighters on these projects.  We plan to work on three to four houses within one target neighborhood. 

Simultaneously, RTNO staff, AmeriCorps service members, and volunteers will complete a service project at one of the NOFD stationhouses.  As a token of our respect for the service they provide our community, RTNO will coordinate with the Fire Department to determine which stationhouse needs small repairs such as interior or exterior paint or weatherization.  Hurricane Katrina damaged Orleans Parish stationhouses across the city, some of which were forced to close after the storm.  Many of the local stationhouses that have returned to use still need minor repairs.  As the NOFD helps RTNO clients return home, RTNO will give back to the fire fighters by completing repairs to a stationhouse.    

With the help of the fire fighters, RTNO staff and AmeriCorps members, and other volunteers, we hope to recruit approximately 60 volunteers.  All volunteers who work with RTNO must register by completing a short registration form and by signing a liability waiver.  This registration process makes it easy to track the number of volunteers who participate in this day of service.

This service project will coincide with the City of New Orleans’ call to service for the September 11 anniversary.  The City is using this national day of service and remembrance as an opportunity to ask New Orleanian nonprofits and community activists to give back to our first responders.  By partnering with the NOFD, RTNO will be participating in a citywide day of service. 

RTNO hopes that this partnership with the NOFD will lead to an annual volunteer event on September 11.  If we receive this challenge grant, RTNO will work with the New Orleans Department of Recreation and the NOFD to build or repair play structures in Orleans Parish parks.  RTNO would plan playground builds with volunteers from the NOFD for future September 11 events.  A $60,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service would sustain these annual community revitalization events for the next three years.