Gulf Coast Recovery: Resilience Community Donations Help Rebuild Baton Rouge

14124924_1251428788223236_3774750627762489218_oIn August, continuous rainfall in southern Louisiana and Mississippi caused widespread flooding. The Federal Government declared a major disaster, reportedly the worst to hit the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy, killing at least 13 people, displacing thousands, and destroying about 60,000 homes in Louisiana. The DRI Foundation immediately set up the Gulf Coast Recovery Fund and called on business continuity and disaster recovery professionals to make an impact.

The business continuity and disaster recovery community responded and made possible a collective donation of $5,000 from the DRI Foundation toward local community efforts to rebuild houses damaged by the flooding in Baton Rouge, LA, so that people impacted could return to their homes.

The DRI Foundation partnered with Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge (RTBR) to make this possible. Christopher Andrews, executive director of RTBR described the effects of the flooding in Louisiana and how the DRI Foundation’s donation helped Baton Rouge communities recover and rebuild.

What where the effects of flooding in Baton Rouge?

Christopher Andrews, RTBR: The flood was widespread, affecting thousands of lives and structures. Neighborhoods have been abandoned and schools shuttered. Businesses have been closed, perhaps to never open again. This flood spanned 14 miles from east to west and 27 miles from north to south – a massive area that now is dealing with the painfully slow work of recovery and rebuilding. It will take years to recover from this disaster. Some experts say the 2016 flood was worse than Superstorm Sandy.

What are the greatest needs?

Andrews: The greatest need is getting people back into their homes. Thousands remain displaced and are without the financial means to rebuild, which means that the work of non-profits like RTBR is all the more critical. Governmental response has been slow and not as effective as we would have hoped.

How is RTBR helping people affected by flooding?

Andrews: In the immediate aftermath of the flood RTBR engaged in “mucking & gutting” operations, essentially cleaning out flooded homes, tearing our sheet-rock, floors, cabinets, etc. Then we did mold remediation. After houses dry out, RTBR does what it can to bring the house back to livable condition. We have completely restored one home and have four others in different stages of restoration. We cleaned out 82 homes and have now started on the rebuild phase, which of course, is much slower and more expensive and labor intensive. We hope to restore 50 homes in 2017.

img_8525How will the donation from the DRI Foundation help?

Andrews: This donation supports the rebuilding efforts of RTBR. Because of our expertise and experience, we get a $4 value for every $1 donated. Thus DRI’s donation of $5000.00 translates into a $20,000.00 value. We are extremely grateful.

DRI’s generous donation of $5,000 was added to other donations to purchase materials such as drywall, flooring, doors, etc., all of which was needed to restore a flooded home. A gift of $5000.00 provides a great amount of material for a 1,500 square foot home, the kind of homes we are targeting.

14706958_1301880516511396_6265075284772938532_oCan you talk about the community and people we are helping?

Andrews: RTBR works primarily with the elderly and the poor. Our clients fall below federal poverty guidelines and are over the age of 50. Many of them have lived in their homes for 30-40 years and are people with a very real existential investment in their property and neighborhood. By and large our clients are African-American.

RTBR completed restoring the home of a 67-year-old widow. Her husband was an Air Force veteran, and in retirement, made furniture for their home. Most of that furniture was destroyed by the recent flood. She is now in the process of rebuilding her life and refurnishing her home.

She was one of the first in the area to return to her home.  We are currently working on four additional houses on this street in an effort to bring back the neighborhood.

14753210_1301131879919593_8799689630356524357_oHow does your organization involve the local community?

Andrews: Because RTBR relies on volunteers for 95% of its work, we attract a large segment of the community representing all walks of life. From retirees to plant workers to executives, we utilize the energy of volunteers. Out of necessity we have to use licensed electricians and plumbers, but for the most part work is done by volunteers. Thus we bring the community together and create opportunities for interaction among disparate groups and individuals that otherwise might not happen.

How does your project promote community resilience?

Andrews: RTBR concentrates its efforts in such a way as to not only help an individual homeowner, but to preserve neighborhoods. We know that certain people on a particular block or street are the “village elders” and we try to help these people who, in fact, are anchors to their neighborhood. When we do this, we bring stability to the neighborhood and help support the “soul” of the neighborhood. This in turn promotes resilience for the entire neighborhood.

The DRI Foundation is committed to helping communities recover from disasters by connecting donors to local community resilience efforts.   Learn more about our efforts to support community resilience here.  To help support the work of the  DRI Foundation, click here.