With the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and more recently Hurricane Ike in 2008, New Orleans has suffered severe damage. Local groups are still traveling down to assist with the repairs needed to help the many residents still living in travel trailers.
A local group, Missions of Helping Hands, has traveled three times to New Orleans to help with reconstruction efforts. The group most recently went in summer 2012 and will go again in July.
Eight people participated in the trip in 2012 and ranged in age from 10 to 57. The group went to Slidell, La. and commuted to the Lower Ninth Ward to work on repairing a house. Missions of Helping Hands was founded in 2010 by Kevin Weaver, Erin Alexander and Joe Siragusa. While in Louisiana, they worked with Epworth Project, a project that helps with victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The Missions of Helping Hands traveled to Louisiana in summer 2012 to help with hurricane relief. Pictured, from left, front row: Brenden Siragusa, Josh Schulze, Isaac Weaver and MaKayla Weaver. Back row: Joe Siragusa, Susan Arnold, Mike C. of Epworth Project, Ken A. of Epworth Project, Kevin Weaver, Erin Alexander, Sarah Lewis and Dale Kimbell of Epworth Project.
Each day the group would commute and work from 7:30 a.m. to about 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, Weaver said. The group worked later in the day because of decreased temperatures while there. Weaver said it also rained every day during their trip due to Hurricane Isaac forming. Weaver said last year's trip was better than the year before.
"It was awesome. It was better than the first year. Everybody knew everybody. We went to church. We did devotions every night. It was phenomenal. We got a lot done," Weaver said.
The group was in Louisiana for 10 days after driving there straight through under 15 hours and stopping only for gas "... and to stop at the last Tim Horton's we found in Cincinnati, Ohio," Weaver joked. On the way home, Weaver said he did not hear "another peep in the van until Cleveland," following dinner.
While down south, the group worked on tiling a bathroom and kitchen, as well as laying flooring. After the group left, the man who lived in the house was scheduled to move back in about a month later but tragedy struck.
"The house that we worked on, he was going to be able to move in a month later. Hurricane Isaac came and destroyed his house again," Weaver said. "The way FEMA works, he won't be able to get more FEMA money so he lost everything."
Epworth Project also lost all of their tools to flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac. Through donations, however, all the tools were replaced. Weaver said that he was given updates on Isaac after the group had left.
"Ken (Ward), the director of Epworth, was calling me everyday with updates. We sent them a donation to help them get back on their feet."
The members who went last summer were Weaver, Alexander, Siragusa, Sarah Lewis, MaKayla Weaver, Isaac Weaver, Brenden Siragusa and Josh Schulze. Everyone who has gone on the trip forms a "brotherly-sisterly bond." According to Weaver, while the group was there to work, they did do some sightseeing. They traveled to the World War II museum, stopping at SONIC drive-in twice a day and going to the beach. The museum was a "learning experience" for the group and the group finally managed to enjoy the beach during good weather.
"Every time we got there (at the beach) we could only stay 10 or 15 minutes because a storm would roll in," he said.
For their work with hurricane recovery, Epworth Project and Missions of Helping Hands were chosen as one of the top 200 recovery teams for FEMA in 2012. Weaver was also inducted to the Hall of Fame at the White House for Humanitarian of the Year, a national honor. Weaver traveled to Cincinnati last April to accept the award. Weaver, to this day, still does not know who nominated him for the award.
The group will travel down this summer to do the same type of work in the Lower Ninth Ward from July 26 through Aug. 3. The cost of the trip is $450. Payment is due June 1 and July 1. For an application, email firstname.lastname@example.org. With the application, registrants are to submit $150 of the cost. If not accepted, the money will be returned. Weaver encourages all ages to apply but the minimum age is 10. All applicants under the age of 18 will need adult permission.
"Come along and treat it as a vacation. No experience is necessary whatsoever. They teach us what we don't know and we teach each other," Weaver said. "We do devotions and go to church but we're nondenominational."
The group will be hosting a car wash Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Walmart. Donations will be accepted for washes. A lunch special consisting of two hot dogs, pop and a bag of chips for $5 will be sold. The group will also be selling raffle tickets for gift baskets donated by Jenna's Fourth Street Cafe, Weight Watchers and West Herr. The Helping Hands group also donated a basket. The drawing will be held on July 7 at a second car wash held at Walmart starting at noon. All money raised will be spent on renting vehicles and paying for gas for the drive. Those who do not want to attend the trip may also donate.
For more information email Helping Hands or visit their Facebook page by searching Missions of Helping Hands.
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