Neil Ritter is a prime example of how unique talents can be utilized to help a homeowner rebuild his or her home. Neil and his wife are from New Hampshire and visited New Orleans regularly before 2005, with each stay lengthening in duration. Running Old Village Woodworks in Jaffrey, N.H., Neil is an experienced carpenter who restores and remodels certain features of historic homes. He is skilled in window and door restoration, interior trim work and constructing custom furniture.
After he saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Neil felt that his knowledge and experience working with older buildings would be an asset to the thousands of historic homes that were damaged in New Orleans. “I chose to volunteer my time and skills in New Orleans for several reasons: for one thing, I have many times been helped by others when I was in great need and I think that the best way to repay that help is to pass it along,” Neil said. “I believe that what you give is more important than what you acquire. My wife and I love this city and giving back to the people here is the least we can do for all the joy we get when we’re here.”
In the fall of 2006, Neil contacted the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans about volunteer work. After meeting with him and learning of his talents, Kevin Barnes, a Rebuilding Together construction manager, came up with a novel assignment for him. A house in Holy Cross on Dauphine Street had front doors that were in dire straits. “They had been cut and abused in every way imaginable, including having been cut down to fit a shorter door jamb, had heavy decay in some areas, and the screw holes had been stripped in a couple of locations from being re-mortised for several set of hinges,” Ritter explained. “Since making new doors was not feasible, we restored the old ones.”
In two weeks, Neil restored the doors just in time for a photo shoot with Hearst Corporation volunteers, who helped work on and fund the rehabilitation of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith’s house at 5222-24 Dauphine St. in Holy Cross, a joint project of the National Trust and PRC’s Rebuilding Together. Wood was added to the doors, and some repairs were made with restoration epoxy. They were hung and Hearst volunteers painted them, giving the homeowners their front door back along with a rebuilt house.
There have been many unique and talented volunteers who have joined Rebuilding Together in helping elderly and/or disabled homeowners move safely back into their homes. From those who are skilled with their hands to those who have intellectual capital to lend, hard-working individuals have blessed Rebuilding Together by donating their time to help the neighborhoods of New Orleans. Over 5,000 volunteers have come from around the country for diverse reasons, but with one common bond: they all felt a desire to help New Orleans rebuild, one family at a time. Neil Ritter’s story is just one of many that have been fostered thanks to motivated volunteers with diverse and useful talents. We all have something to give so the question is: when are you going to start developing your unique story? All you have to do is volunteer.