This month, the Home Depot Foundation has partnered with Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) to sponsor repairs that will greatly improve the health, safety and home accessibility for elderly, veteran homeowners in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood. Close to 300 volunteers from across the country will descend on the neighborhood in mid April, just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Rebuilding Together New Orleans and the city’s Tricentennial.
The Home Depot Foundation’s support of RTNO’s veteran homeowners will fund over four total renovations that would have otherwise languished on their wait list. Each of these individual homeowners, or one of their close family members, has served our country and will be honored for that service through the efforts of RTNO’s volunteers and sponsors.
“We’re excited to be working with Rebuilding Together New Orleans to help veteran homeowners in the New Orleans community,” said Home Depot Foundation Field Manager Sean Vissar. The Home Depot is dedicated to giving back to those who have already given so much to our country, and with more than 35,000 veteran associates, taking care of service members is personal. “To date the Home Depot Foundation has given over $227 million since 2011 to veteran-related causes. When it comes to supporting the brave men and women of our armed forces, we’re all in,” Vissar said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were close to 18,000 veterans living in New Orleans between 2012 and 2016.
RTNO serves veterans, but others as well. Now in its 30th year, RTNO is a program of the Preservation Resource Center that focuses on improving the lives of residents in Orleans Parish using a combination of volunteer and professional labor. The program works predominately with low-income homeowners, particularly those who are elderly, disabled, veterans or single head of households with minor children. By leveraging corporate, private and public funding with volunteer labor, they are able to strengthen neighborhoods and allow those in need to regain the security of their homes.
Director of RTNO, William Stoudt, greatly appreciates the Home Depot Foundation partnership, stating, “We are working together to provide safe and healthy homes for veterans and dramatically reduce wait times. The Home Depot makes our work possible.”
RTNO is proud to work with the Home Depot Foundation to improve the lives and homes of the following veterans:
Henry Martin, 67
4612 Kendall Dr., Gentilly
Hometown: New Orleans
Living in the house since: 2002
Henry Martin is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, and has spent the last 16 years living in his Gentilly home. He is a Marine Corps veteran who served his country during the Vietnam War and spent four years in the reserve. He purchased his home with his mother, Mary, before she passed, only to have it severely damaged from floodwaters caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
While some repairs were completed after the storm, he has been living in the home without power for 13 years. Mr. Martin said, “the biggest struggle was getting the resources for the interior work,” especially after hiring workers to install sheetrock in the months following the storm, only to find out that they did the work incorrectly. In the years following, Mr. Martin has received help from his brother and brother-in-law who worked with him in order to bring the exterior into compliance with city codes
Mr. Martin is an active artist, completing beautiful pieces that he sells to locals and tourists alike in the French Quarter. When he’s not painting, he’s serving as a minister to his friends and neighbors, and has been very involved in his church since returning from military service. His neighbors, Charles and Cynthia Heisser, put RTNO in touch with him after finding out that he was a veteran in need. In discussing the work Mr. Martin said, “I’m excited about it because I see God in it. That’s why I’m resting in peace now, there is God in this.”
In order for Mr. Martin to live comfortably in his home it needs extensive work, the exterior siding needs to be repaired and repainted, and the framing of the home needs to be reconstructed to reinforce structural integrity. It also requires electrical work, including a working HVAC system. When discussing the volunteers working on repairing his home, Mr. Martin said, “I’m seeing good people, even the kids. They really mean business, and I’m just thankful for them. It’s been great.” Once the interior is completed, Mr. Martin will have a house he can call home and a studio for his artwork. In reflecting on the process he stated, “I think about it, it’s been a composition like I do my artwork. It is awesome, that is how I see it. I was blindsided. Each and every individual personally is awesome; everyone comes together under that one word, because we serve an awesome God, and I see the awesomeness in God’s people.”
Charles & Cynthia Heisser, 86 & 83
4611 Kendall Dr., Gentilly
Hometown: New Orleans
Living in the house since: 1974
Charles and Cynthia Heisser have been residents of the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans for over 40 years, and happily married for even longer. A U.S. Army Korean War veteran, Mr. Heisser was born in New Orleans where he would meet his wife Cynthia and raise five children, fully immersed in the culture and community of his hometown.
When Hurricane Katrina caused levee failure in Gentilly it created catastrophic flooding in the neighborhood. In response to the storm, the Heisser’s feared they would be forced to relocate permanently, leaving behind their home and life as they knew it. “It was nine months before we could even see the house,” Mr Heisser said. His wife added, “This was a really badly hit area, the water was up to the roof in most of the neighborhood. All my furniture was floating around, refrigerator, freezer – everything [was] gone.”
Like so many in the city, at first the couple hired unscrupulous contractors who performed repairs that were substandard, overpriced and unfinished before abandoning the project. To comply with government aid requirements the couple was required to live on the property and so they inhabited a FEMA trailer for the three years following the storm. After concerns for their safety in the temporary structure were voiced by their adult children, the Heisser’s took what little money they had left and repaired their 12-by-24-foot garage, which had functioned as a room for their three boys when they were young, into the living space they have now occupied for over 10 years. Though it looked finished from the street, the main house sat empty and has been merely a shell of the home they so loved.
After an exhaustive search for help the couple’s granddaughter, Laura, finally got in touch with RTNO. Mrs. Heisser fondly remembers the day that the first RTNO staff member knocked on their door and said, “We are here to help you.” After years of false starts, she replied that they had heard that before. Then, the staff member responded with, “Well, I’m going to make it come true.” Mr. Heisser shared in his initial disbelief, “over the years we looked for help, but the job was so massive, organizations could do painting, little light renovations, but nobody would tackle the big things.”
Through the efforts of volunteers and sponsors, Charles and Cynthia will finally see their dream of reclaiming their home come to fruition. Volunteers are working to hang insulation and drywall, install floors, doors, and trim to make the structure of this house become a home again. The couple has bonded with many of the volunteers working on their house, “we have a great rapport with them,” Mr. Heisser said. “We’ve met some great people,” added Mrs. Heisser. This year the Heisser’s will be able to spend their retirement the way they intended, in a safe and healthy house with room to host their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the city they call home.
Barbara Thompson, 77
5100 Metropolitan Dr., Gentilly
Hometown: New Orleans
Living in the house since: 1973
Barbara Thompson, a New Orleans native, has lived in her Gentilly home for over 44 years. She spent three years in the U.S. Army, where her husband also served for 30 years. The couple raised three children in their Metropolitan Drive home before Mr. Thompson passed away from injuries sustained in Vietnam. Just days after her husband’s passing, her daughter lost her battle with cancer at just 32 years old.
A chance viewing of a newspaper article discussing the efforts of Rebuilding Together New Orleans was the catalyst for change. Mrs. Thompson got in touch with staff members to seek help, and funding for repairing her home was allocated in part from a Veteran specific sponsor, something that Ms. Thompson values greatly. She stated that it “feels good to get recognized for my service, especially since my husband paid the ultimate price.” Not being able to complete the improvements on her own had added a great deal of stress to her life and was a daily source of worry.
Ms. Thompson has worked incredibly hard over the course of her life to be where she is now. A retired realtor, master’s degree holder — thanks to the GI Bill, mother and grandmother, she needed critical repairs to her home to continue aging safely in place. Because her children live outside of New Orleans, it has been very difficult for her to keep up with home repairs and maintenance on her own.
Her home needed a new fence to replace one that was falling and deteriorated, repairs to the driveway, which was crumbling away and making it difficult to enter the home safely and a new roof. Additionally, the home required weatherization repairs and new insulation to lower utility bills as her sewage and water fees continue to rise over the years. The interior of the home also needed new drywall, in places where destructive termites damaged the structure.
Completed repairs on Ms. Thompson’s home mean that she can rest easy at night knowing her home is safe and sound. “I appreciate everything they did,” she said, I “never had anyone do anything for me before.” With the work completed Ms. Thompson will be able to enjoy her retirement without the burden of diminished property stability, and she can reconnect with her friends and long-time neighbors in the comfort of her home.
Daisy Curtis, 84
4733 Congress Dr., Gentilly
Hometown: Sumpter, SC
Living in the house since: 1978
Daisy Curtis and her husband left South Carolina in the 1970’s to become permanent residents of New Orleans. Mr. Curtis spent 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, serving in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In remembering the period of her husband’s service and the family life they built up around it, Mrs. Curtis recalled, “a veteran goes through a lot. We traveled with him, wherever he could bring us, we went.” After settling in New Orleans, Mrs. Curtis started her career as a social worker in schools and hospitals across the city. It would also be in New Orleans that the couple would raise their daughter, Kathy.
The passing of her husband left Mrs. Curtis on an incredibly fixed income, making it difficult to manage the upkeep of her home, and pay for repairs that allow her to live in safety and comfort. After realizing that the limited income prevented her from getting the work done on her own, she reached out to Rebuilding Together. A Veteran Sponsor has donated the necessary funds in recognition of the services provided to the country by Mrs. Curtis’ husband. Of the sponsorship Mrs. Curtis says, she is “very happy about that, I’m blessed.”
The repairs of her home are due to begin soon; she cites termites and faulty gutters as being her main sources of worry. The roof of her Congress Drive home needs repairs to prevent water damage and hazardous mold growth. Mrs. Curtis is currently using an oxygen tank, and water leaks in her home could create further complications in her breathing if left unrepaired. She looks forward to the day where there will be “no leaks on the roof” and when she won’t have to be concerned about her own safety or that of her visitors.
In addition to the issues with the roof and gutters, the siding of the home needs washing and fascia replacement to avoid eventual deterioration and infestation of further pests. The windows are also in need of new exterior trim and paint to create a proper water seal. These repairs are crucial to keeping Mrs. Curtis healthy as she ages.
Once repairs are completed on Mrs. Curtis’ home, she hopes that she’ll be able to be a pet owner again and enjoy the comforts of having a canine companion. Additionally, the improved conditions of her home will allow her financial security to take care of bills and expenses while having the peace of mind that comes with a safe and healthy home.