On Friday, January 6, 2012, Operation Helping Hands completed its last post-Katrina home renovation. Under the auspices of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the agency had been one of the largest organizations established for rehabbing storm-damaged homes in the City, but reduced funding has forced it to phase out it operations.
Set-up in the wake of the 2005 flooding, Operation Helping Hands helped coordinate rebuilding efforts in conjunction with the myriad of volunteers after Katrina. Over the years, they coordinated the work of some 30,000 volunteers, gutted 2,000 homes, and painted/rebuilt about 600 others. The agency intended to shut down months from now, but with dwindling government grants and the high cost of replacing contaminated Chinese drywall used in some renovations, it came sooner.
Students in the New Orleans course began working with Operation Helping Hands in 2009. And we returned to work with them in 2010 and 2011. The commitment shown by its administrators, staff, and long-term volunteers had a tremendous impact on student volunteers, as did the chance to work at the street level in a number of New Orleans neighborhoods. The class had been scheduled to work with them again in March; however with the early shutdown, we will be working with a Habitat for Humanity organizations in St. Tammany Parish instead.
The memories of working with Operation Helping Hands are great and the closing of such a fine program, bittersweet. From Miss Kathy’s fine dinners at St. Ray’s in Gentilly, to the supposedly haunted housing in Marrero, LA, to the reward of getting to know homeowners, their neighbors, neighborhood children, and local pets, students will all look back fondly on the time spent volunteering with Operation Helping Hands. And regardless of the opportunities and rewards of such service in the future, there will be a hole left where Operation Helping Hands used to be. Thank you!
For more on the closing of Operation Helping Hands, click here.