Did you know that more songs have been written about homes or hometowns than love? It isn’t hard to understand why. Homes – whether it be a childhood home, your first home as an adult or the home you live in right now – invoke strong emotions and memories. Our homes become personal sanctuaries where we feel most loved, relaxed and unencumbered by the world outside. A few years ago, I inherited a cross-stitch piece made by my grandmother when she was young. “Of all the roads both east and west, the one that leads home is best.” The belief home really is “best” is the premise one New Orleans organization builds their mission and work around.
Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) started small in 1988 as a one-day revitalization pilot program of the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) in the Lower Garden District that addressed the needs of elderly or disabled homeowners unable to manage minor home repairs.
Originally called Christmas in October, the organization joined Rebuilding Together National in 2001 changing its name and revamping to tackle repairs and major renovations in a year-round format throughout the city. RNTO successfully maintains its relationship with the PRC by being the only national affiliate partnering with a local nonprofit. Through this expansion of its strategic neighborhood revitalization effort the last 28 years, RTNO has quickly grown into one of the largest home rehabilitation nonprofit organizations in New Orleans, rebuilding over 1,500 homes and providing more than $100 million in total construction investment for the city of New Orleans.
So, what makes RTNO different from the many nonprofits doing renovation work around New Orleans? After speaking with Community and Corporate Relations Manager Catelyn Williams, it became clear that strong relationships are the building blocks for each facet of the RTNO mission and program. Initial contact begins simply through word of mouth referrals to connect potential participants with RTNO. Catelyn and her team then meet the homeowner to determine the scope of each project, the fit for RTNO and, if accepted, initiate a thoughtful, efficient work plan utilizing local and national volunteers. The selfless gifts of time, labor and sweat by volunteers isn’t lost on the appreciative homeowners. “I am very grateful that the volunteers and RTNO helped me with my house. I used to do all the home maintenance myself but have been able to keep up after the fire and now that I’m getting older it’s very difficult,” explains retired veteran and Bywater resident Ernest Watson.
Although RTNO works year-round, with over 30 teams and 500 volunteers working on homes annually, October remains their largest volunteering and fundraising time. The impressive list of sponsors and teams includes a majority of the local large corporations, banks, hospitals, architecture firms and volunteer organizations. Since 2005, an incredible 22,000 volunteers have provided over 600,000 hours to help rebuild 400 homes and have also provided generous financial contributions. IberiaBank Public Relation Coordinator Ashley Morgan shares, “Rebuilding Together is a great way for my coworkers and me to come together to work as a team on a project. Whether it’s painting the house or building a ramp, there is something to do for everyone. The most rewarding part is seeing the biggest smile on the homeowner’s face!”
Relationships developed between homeowners, volunteers and corporate partners through RTNO are making it possible for local elderly, disabled and veterans to remain in their homes and in turn maintain the diverse, multi-generational fabric of our New Orleans neighborhoods.
A little more …
To donate or volunteer with RTNO, visit RTNO.org or call 581-7032