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October Rebuild celebrates 23 years of service to the N.O.

21st October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Lena Perkins had thirty-eight years of memories of her childhood home on Baccich Street washed away by the devastation of hurricane Katrina. And like so many New Orleanians, came back to face many obstacles in efforts to rebuild. Despite heartbreak and disappointment, she and her mother, Bridget Burke, never saw permanent relocation as an option. And thanks to Rebuilding Together New Orleans, the family’s journey, that has gone from Houston to the North shore, will end back home.

The Burke’s Gentilly home was one of 21 residences that were part of the 2013 Rebuilding Together New Orleans’ annual October Build project, which celebrated its 23rd year. Originally called “Christmas in October,” this community build initiative is part of Rebuilding Together New Orleans’ commitment to the city and to civic action in New Orleans. Over two weekends this month, (October 4-5 and October 11-12) more than 600 volunteers from 30 local companies and organizations worked on 21 homes across 9 New Orleans’ neighborhoods to improve the lives of their neighbors and friends.

The Burke family home, located in Gentilly, is a project of Rebuilding Together New Orleans, one of 21 projects the non-profit group has committed to rebuilding in 2013.

The Burke family home, located in Gentilly, is a project of Rebuilding Together New Orleans, one of 21 projects
the non-profit group has committed to rebuilding in 2013.

The October Build project again found support from companies and organizations such as Chevron and Shell Oil, The Home Depot Found­ation, Folgers Coffee, Dash Lum­ber, Junior League of New Or­leans, JP Morgan Chase and many more.

The event is the part of the organizations long-standing tradition of engaging the business and social communities of New Orleans to give back through volunteerism. Volunteers work­ed on a variety of projects ranging from putting the final touches on a house a family has been waiting to return to since Katrina to repairing historic windows to reduce utility bills for senior citizens.

“This collaborative effort shows what local residents who love their city can accomplish in two weekends,” says Jon Skvarka, Director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans. “These repairs will make long lasting impacts on the lives of their neighbors and communities. “We take pride in the fact that we’re able to give hope to homeowners who no longer had the resources or the ability to make vital home repairs,” Jon Skvarka said. “We’re grateful for generous sponsors like Chevron and the City of New Orleans who have helped us bring the Burkes and hundreds of other families back home since 2005.”

Bridget Burke; who raised two children in the home, saw her hopes of returning to the city nearly destroyed by unethical contractors.

“We lost close to $80,000,” Burke told The Louisiana Weekly. “When you have built something that is yours and it’s taken away from you in an instant, it really hurts. I was devastated. I tried everything I could to get back to my house, because that’s where I wanted to be.”

“The house was wrapped in paper, and reframed by the contractor-that’s all he did. But Rebuilding Together truly rebuilt our home; they put the siding up, and the elevation company raised the home,” Lena Perkins added. “The (contractor) started on the house, and then ran out on us. I came back with other family members at first; I didn’t let my mama come back.”

Burke had suffered a stroke in October of 2004, which left her partially paralyzed.

Katrina and her aftermath brought 11 feet of water into the Burke home. After evacuating to Houston, the family relocated to Covington (their current residence) to live with other family members, but never believed they wouldn’t be able to return to the place that has been home for three generations.

Back in 2010, after much research, Burke’s daughter found out about Rebuilding Together New Orleans. She looked into companies that offered volunteer assistance to help with rebuilding homes.

“I called everyone on the list I had, and Rebuilding Together was the only organization still taking names to help people.” Perkins said.

She was vigilant in making sure the organization knew the importance of the Burke home being rebuilt and the family returning.

“I called every week or so to find out the status of us getting back in our home, and we did make a connection with them,” Perkins adds. “They were just so awesome.”

This will be a very special Christmas season for the family, as another generation will be able to create new memories. The Gentilly home is set to be ready just in time for Lena’s two-month-old baby boy Legan, to spend his first Christmas there.

“We still have much more work to do to ensure more New Orleans homeowners have a safe and healthy home,” Skvarka adds, “but we’re excited to see one less blighted house and one more family back in Gentilly.”

Rebuilding Together New Orleans, the local affiliate of Rebuilding Together, Inc. has restored and revitalized more than 1,400 homes over the past 25 years in the New Orleans area.

For more information on next year’s build, or for volunteer opportunities, call (504) 636-3075 or visit the Rebuilding Together New Orleans website at www.­RTNO.org.

This article originally published in the October 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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