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Rebuild volunteers build a playground and renovate Algiers homes

5th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

The housing organization Rebuilding Together teamed up with Lowe’s to complete renovations on 10 Algiers homes and build a playground as part of the 18th Annual Kickoff to Rebuild.

In the only Super Bowl-sanctioned charity event on the Westbank, a team consisting of community volunteers, local leaders, national celebrities and past and present NFL players worked to rehabilitate 10 homes in the Tunisburg McClendonville neighborhood in Algiers. Rebuilding Together chose these families on an income and need basis. The repairs will allow the families to live in a healthy, safe home. The beneficiaries include veterans, teachers, and other longtime community members.

Some of the houses sustained damage from the winds of Hurricane Isaac, and others have just suffered wear and tear over the years. Many of the residents are elderly and on a fixed income, making repairs seem like an insurmountable financial obstacle. Four of the recipients are veterans, a note of particular pride for John Skvarka, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans.

“It’s important to give back to people who’ve given so much to the country,” Skvarka said.

The work will not be limited to repairs. For the elderly recipients, the work will include renovations to make the steps leading to their homes more accessible for people with bad knees and limited mobility. Penny Baker, a 10-year resident of the community, is one such recipient.

“It’s the most amazing thing that could ever happen,” Baker said as she watched dozens of volunteers paint her home and the homes of her neighbors.

“Some of the people could not even speak because they were so overwhelmed that all of these volunteers were coming here to help them,” said Leslie Ellison, Vice President of the Orleans Parish School Board and President of the Tunisburg McClendonville Home?owners Civic Association.

Carter’s Kids, a nonprofit organization founded by Carter Oosterhouse (the star of HGTV’s “Carter Can” and “Red Hot and Green”), partnered with Rebuilding Together New Orleans to build a new community playground on De Armas Street. The lot, centrally located within the neighborhood, was an elementary school from the 1950s until the 1970s, then was turned into a park with a playground that fell into disrepair. Children from various Orleans Parish public schools including O. Perry Walker and Edna Karr high schools attended to watch the construction of the new playground as well as help clear debris and brush from neighboring vacant lots.

“You can feel the energy in this community about this park being erected,” Ellison said. “The kids will always remember this Super Bowl.”

Chris Clark, an offensive tackle for the Denver Broncos and native of the Lower 9th Ward, is excited about this part of the project. As a child growing up in New Orleans, Clark wished there were more recreational opportunities available to him, the kind that the playground will provide. He relishes the chance to speak to local children at the event and serve as an example of the kinds of things they can accomplish if they follow their dreams.

“Every change we make in the community is something that enlightens our lives,” Clark said. “Just a little change can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

In addition to the construction of the playground and renovation of the houses, the event featured the first annual Toolbelts and Tailgates competition. After a second line with the O. Perry Walker Marching Band, the 200 volunteers were treated to lunch by professional and amateur chefs competing to win a championship tool belt. The contest will be judged by local dignitaries and celebrities, including New Orleans Saints kicker and Super Bowl hero Garrett Hartley along with Cameron Jordon, Junior Galette, Akiem Hicks and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

While the Kickoff to Rebuild event is a source of excitement for both the neighborhood and Rebuilding Together New Orleans, Skvarka and Ellison said the organization’s work is not done in the Tunisburg McClendonville neighborhood. six to 10 additional neighborhood applicants will receive home repairs and renovations before the end of 2013.

“This is not the end,” Ellison said.

This article was originally published in the February 4, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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