HOME AGAIN! for a Family of Teachers
Posted February 14, 2008 | Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-588-6141
Four weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Jamar and Andre Alexander visited their family home. Looking down Spain Street in the New Marigny National Register District, all that the brothers could see was devastation.
"There was nothing living, no animals, no greenery. The grass was dead and there were no birds," says Jamar, adding with a chuckle, "Well, maybe I saw a few flies."
On their front porch, however, among the debris that had sat in six feet of water for days, the brothers spotted a five-gallon bucket with a note taped to the lid. "Welcome Home," it read, followed by instructions from the National Trust and Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans (PRC) on where to find help and how to clean and gut a flooded home. Inside the bucket was bleach, soap, insect repellent, scrub brushes, towels, a clothesline and pins, detergent, dust masks, gloves, trash bags and more. Andre and Jamar quickly began the arduous task of dragging all the ruined furniture outside and bleaching the mold growing on their walls.
"We were moving furniture out when Andre spotted Kevin," recalls Jamar. Kevin Mercadel, Trust program officer in New Orleans, was spending the first months after the storm taking volunteers into the ravaged neighborhoods to distribute cleaning supplies, tarps, generators and information on what the Trust and PRC could do to help homeowners. Kevin was the only human being they'd seen all day so Andre ran to catch up with him.
"And that's how the whole thing got started," says Jamar.
By day's end, the Alexanders had saved the baseboards and frame work. "It was good, old cypress wood," Andre notes. During the process, they talked with Mercadel about what might happen with their 19th-century home, where the two boys and three other siblings had been born and raised.
From that day forward, the Alexander family has not looked back. They were ready for the hard work, frustration, months in FEMA trailers, and long commutes to work in order to one day be home. They agreed to be part of the National Trust and PRC HOME AGAIN! project.
Since the 1960s, the Alexander family has been a fixture in this working class neighborhood located "back of town," as they say in New Orleans. As newlyweds, Samuel and Lydia bought the large house with plans to fill it with children. While Samuel worked as a chef on a merchant marine ship and Lydia taught special education in a public school, five children ran through the home and around the expansive lawn, edged with groomed hedges and flower beds.
Even as the four boys and their sister grew into adults, the house remained the center of their life. Every Sunday, Mr. Alexander put his chef hat back on and prepared gumbo, stewed chicken, and sweet potato pies. The sons and their father watched sports in the den while the ladies talked and laughed in the breakfast nook. Both Andre and Jamar eventually became football coaches, which suits their dad, as well as special education teachers, which pleases Mrs. Alexander.
After months of working with insurance inspectors, contractors, FEMA and other officials – as well as the National Trust and PRC and their teams of volunteer engineers, architects and builders – the Alexanders are starting to imagine the day when they will close their FEMA trailers and move permanently back into the big house. They've rewired, patched the stucco, replaced the tile roof, painted, replanted the large garden, drywalled the interior, redid the plumbing and all the time worked conscientiously to save the 19th century home's fine features. They're finally in the punch list stage of rehab and can see the day when they will close the doors on the FEMA trailers in their side yard forever.
Andre thinks HOME AGAIN! is working: "It's showing people like our neighbors who have decided to come back that we can live in our houses and our neighborhood again."
"It's a slow process, but it's getting close," Jamar says. "The neighborhood is coming back pretty strong, relatively speaking."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.