- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Southern Baptist volunteers plan to rebuild more than 1,000 houses in New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina last August.

The North American Mission Board, which is the mission agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, is planning a $10 million reconstruction project called Project NOAH — New Orleans Area Hope. It will rely on volunteers to rebuild damaged houses, as well as 20 battered Baptist churches, during the next two years. Work is expected to get under way by the end of next month.

“We’ll be putting on a lot of new roofs and installing a lot of exterior siding. There will be houses that have to be totally repainted, and flood damage inside that has to be repaired,” said the Rev. Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, NAMB president and chief executive officer. “We’ll be looking to the people who live right there to determine where the help is needed.”

Members of the evangelical men’s group Promise Keepers will assist.

“We’re hoping for a minimum of 52,000 volunteers” between the two groups, Mr. Reccord said.

The work will resemble those of the international relief group Samaritan’s Purse, headed by the Rev. Franklin Graham. Samaritan’s Purse has contributed $25 million to the area’s rebuilding effort.

“So far, we have worked on 7,139 homes, with help from 5,571 volunteers,” Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Jeremy Blume said yesterday.

Also, the Lutheran Church is sponsoring a volunteer program called “What a Relief,” where more than 1,000 college students will spend their spring break helping the area rebuild.

Project NOAH is earmarking $5 million for the rehabilitation of houses and churches in New Orleans. The gift, Mr. Reccord said, is part of the $22 million that Southern Baptists — the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination — contributed in the aftermath of back-to-back Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which ravaged the Gulf states.

NAMB immediately sent half of the funds raised to the state Baptist conventions in areas hardest-hit.

Mr. Reccord told the Baptist Press he expects Project NOAH “to be a good case study of the strength we have as Southern Baptists.”

The $5 million NAMB is providing will cover 50 percent to 60 percent of Project NOAH’s total costs. The balance, he said, will come from volunteer fees of $15 per day, which will help defray the costs of meals, lodging and other volunteer-support expenses.

He noted that Project NOAH will be organized into two regions — New Orleans proper and the North Shore, a section above Lake Pontchartrain.

While Mr. Reccord said he is confident more than 1,000 homes will be repaired, he said he cannot give a precise total.

“It will all depend on the manpower and resources,” he said.

Jim Burton, NAMB’s director of volunteer mobilization, told the Baptist Press that while Project NOAH will concentrate on the greater New Orleans area, Southern Baptists in Mississippi and Florida are conducting similar rebuilding programs in those states.

“Work also needs to be done in eastern Texas and Alabama,” Mr. Reccord said.

Mr. Burton estimates the value of the in-kind contributions of volunteer labor needed for Project NOAH to come to more than $36 million. Those wanting to contribute to Project NOAH or to help out with the labor may go to the Web site, www.namb.net.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita killed about 1,300 people, displaced more than 1.4 million others and damaged 217,000 homes and 18,000 businesses along the Gulf Coast. In a report last week that assessed disaster response, the White House commended Southern Baptists and other faith-based organizations for their aid to storm victims.

Southern Baptists have been at the heart of feeding efforts. To date, they have cooked and served 14.5 million meals for victims and volunteer workers.

“We’ll cross 15 million meals very soon,” said Mr. Reccord, adding that the group’s feeding efforts in the New Orleans area are not winding down. “We just opened another [mobile] kitchen in St. Bernard Parish.”


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