Local volunteers had rewarding experience helping in New Orleans
MARK E. RONDEAU, Religion Editor
Saturday, June 13 BENNINGTON — Three volunteers from First Baptist Church went to New Orleans for a week in May.
The local trio of volunteers flew out of Albany, N.Y., at 7 a.m. on Mother's Day. They joined in a four-week refurbishment project in the Little Woods housing development. The ecumenical group focused on the rehabilitation of 12 houses as part of a Church World Service effort. Cindy Watson, Aleta Bryant and Bob Wilson from First Baptist joined a crew from Virginia. They were continuing rehabilitation of a house damaged by flooding, purchased by a family relocating from the city's Ninth Ward, where the destruction was even heavier.
Watson said the group worked on the home of Chris Weaver, who lost his home in the Ninth Ward when the levee broke. "He stood in his living room window and watched it break," Watson said. "It is, in his own words, only by the grace of God that he is still alive after a harrowing time. His home was destroyed and he purchased the house in Little Woods, northeast of New Orleans, that we worked on. It, too, had been flooded with five feet of water, since it is on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
"So we rehabbed the house. When Chris bought the house, he thought it would come with government money to fix it up but it did not. He is a porter at a local hospital and works 50 to 60 hours a week," Watson said. "His intension was to do the rehab a little at a time so when he was accepted by Church World Service to be rehabbed he was very pleased."
Weaver slept on a mattress on the living room floor to protect the house, which he will live in with his fiance and his mother. His new neighbors have a neighborhood watch set up and are very interested in cleaning up the neighborhood.
"Chris worked with us for two days, just a delightful man, and he was very very appreciative," Watson said.
"When we arrived, the house interior had been stripped, reinsulated, wired, replumbed, sheet rocked and the wall surfaces had the first coat of primed and compound sprayed on. We primed all surfaces and then applied two coats of light colored paint to the ceilings, walls, and trim," Watson said. "Before we left, four rooms had laminate flooring installed, all the doors had two coats of paint and two had been installed. And the ceramic tile on the other floors had been repaired or renewed."
The other volunteers working with the Bennington trio were from the Roanoke/Salem area of Virginia.
"We had lots of help and everyone pitched in doing whatever needed to be done," Watson said. "There was even some time for some sight seeing around the area. We toured the Ninth Ward, stood on the levee and went to the French Quarter. This was a very rewarding trip."
The Rev. Jerrod Hugenot, of First Baptist Church, said he's delighted that the congregation is involved in this work.
"American Baptists have a great historic and ongoing commitment to humanitarian and crisis aid. Our three church members served in New Orleans thanks to their individual commitment to volunteer as well as congregational donors offering travel assistance funds (upwards of $1,200)," he said. "If others in the community are interested in going, there is a second building blitz happening in August. You do not need to be a Baptist or even a person of faith to volunteer. If interested, contact First Baptist for more info."
During the service at First Baptist on Pentecost Sunday, Watson thanked the congregation for helping send the group to New Orleans. "We're very grateful," she said. "We spent an inspiring and tiring week of painting, and painting and more painting."
Support from church members covered the flight, car rental and food. "We want to thank the Lord also for the fellowship we experienced and for our safe travel."
Hugenot said there are also local opportunities to help people in need with housing.
"The Bennington County Habitat chapter is underway on a local home build, so we must remember volunteers are needed locally as well as nationally and globally," he said. "Volunteer service, wherever it takes place, begins with the same place: the individual saying 'yes' to volunteer. Where they go is really secondary."