Rebuilding Together

Kids Can Do Good Too!

October 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm , by

In August I met a special young lady named Nora. I was in New Orleans to volunteer for a Rebuilding Together project to reconstruct homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina five years earlier. I hit it off with Nora and her mom while we were sweating and sanding together in the sultry New Orleans heat. Nora learned a thing or two about the power of community service, so I invited her to visit our offices at LHJ and write a guest blog about it. Here are her thoughts.

rsz_noraIt all started when my Argentine grandmother, Lita, taught me to knit when I was 6. I put my hands on the knitting needles, and she put her hands over mine and guided the movements of my hands and the yarn. Once I knew the motions, I could do it myself at home. At first my knitted squares were loose and full of holes and dropped stitches, but I kept practicing and got better. Now my full ability is to knit scarves and hats. Sweaters and gloves are beyond my skills, although my grandma made beautiful ones.

When I was 11 or 12, I had a group of friends who all had learned to knit. In our religion class, the teacher suggested that we do some good with our knitting skills. She suggested we make a baby blanket and donate it to a hospital. So we each knitted several squares and then sewed them all together. It was in lots of pastel colors and was really cute! We thought it was amazing that we made it—it looked professional! And we were really proud to give it to someone in need.

It made me want to do more community service. So this past summer, my mom asked if I wanted to go to New Orleans with her for the 5th anniversary of hurricane Katrina and help rebuild some houses (below, that’s me with Julie Bain and my friend Julia Collins). I wasn’t sure what I’d have to do and was a little bit nervous, but I was into it.

rsz_rebuilding_togetherI had painted sets for my school musical, but that did not prepare me for being on a ladder in 100-degree heat to prime and paint a two-story home. It was tough work. But what was so cool was that I could do it, and I painted a lot of that house. I also sanded almost the whole rebuilt front porch. We also met the owners and saw how grateful they were. They had lived there for decades before Katrina, and I thought it was so valuable to rebuild their home rather than tear it down and build a new one. I mean, they want to live in their own home!

Both of these projects made me want to do more. It’s very rewarding, and I plan to go again next summer. Doing good really does feel good!

Nora Gonzalez, 13, New York City

Helping Hands in New Orleans

September 7, 2010 at 9:17 am , by


Oh, the things you can do! With just a few volunteers and some hard work, you can change people’s lives.

That’s our Meredith crew, above, finishing up a house in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans on August 27. When you write a check to your favorite charity, you know you’re doing good. But when you put your own sweat (and tears and maybe even a little blood) into a cause—and get to know the people involved—it can be inspiring and even life-changing. I can’t stop thinking about New Orleans and the things I learned while I was there with Rebuilding Together for the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (see my previous blogs on it here and here.).

Kids make great volunteers. I was surprised at how many people brought their kids to help in New Orleans, and at how much they accomplished. I especially bonded with these two: Nora Gonzalez, 13, and Julia Collins, 12, both going into 8th grade in New York City. I was amazed at how both of them gamely climbed tall ladders to carefully prime and paint in the sultry August heat, without a complaint.

Later, when I was sanding the porch with Nora, we had a chance to talk. When I mentioned I was going to interview another homeowner, one who hadn’t been as lucky as the ones whose house we were  finishing, she asked if she could go with me. I happily took on my new apprentice. Here’s what we learned.

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Rebuilding Houses in New Orleans

August 27, 2010 at 7:14 am , by

At Ladies’ Home Journal, we don’t just write about others doing good. We also practice what we preach! I’m honored to be in New Orleans this week for Rebuilding Together’s Fifty for Five project to rehabilitate homes damaged by Katrina. (LHJ‘s parent company, Meredith Corp., is a sponsor.) The Harris family bought this house in 1963 and it was almost completely destroyed by the hurricane floodwaters five years ago. Here’s our gang priming up the siding on this beautifully rebuilt house in preparation for its final paint job.

That’s Margaret Harris with me, right. When Katrina was coming, she said she didn’t want to leave. She’d ridden out many a hurricane in that house. “I thought my home was safe,” she said. She stocked up at Sam’s, and got out the generator. But her son convinced Mrs. Harris and her husband to get in the car and evacuate. They made it to their daughter’s house in South Carolina after more than 20 hours on the gridlocked roads, and they stayed  several months. When her son could finally get into the house, he saw the devastation and said, “Mama, don’t come back.” But eventually they did come back and lived in a trailer for years while they worked to restore the house. Soon it will be a welcoming haven again for their five kids, nine grandkids and three great-grandchildren.

After filling, sanding, priming and painting all day Thursday, our group of volunteers was tired but happy. Mr. and Mrs. Harris were so appreciative, and let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as doing a little good. So we’re doing it again on Friday. It all culminates in a giant musical celebration to the renewal of the Gulf Coast on Saturday. I’ll report back.