Sopping wet, covered in three different shades of paint and exhausted, I stood in the pouring rain smiling. During the past eight hours, a volunteer army, armed with brushes and shovels, had descended on Lizardi Street in Holy Cross to help revitalize the neighborhood. Through the afternoon rain, the volunteers painted five exteriors, landscaped nine properties along Lizardi Street, installed radiant barriers and painted the interiors of two homes. PRC’s Rebuilding Together and the National Basketball Association had brought life back into Holy Cross, and Lizardi Street has a fresh new streetscape to prove it. The NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service was over and even the hardest of rains could not drown the pride that everyone who had given of their time and effort that day felt.
I had been working with the NBA to prepare for this day since October. Because the All-Star Game was held in the Crescent City this year, the NBA wanted to culminate the work it has done over the past year in the city with a large scale, one-day volunteer event. NBA Cares and the National Basketball Player’s Association donated $106,000 to Rebuilding Together toward the total renovation of two houses. In addition, they gave over $83,000 for the Day of Service. Along with four other organizations preparing ten worksites across the city, we planned to paint nine properties in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of Holy Cross with NBA volunteers on February 15, 2008. Since January 3rd, an AmeriCorps *NCCC team had been working with Kevin Barnes, RTNO’s construction manager in Holy Cross, to prepare each property’s exterior to receive a final coat of paint on the Day of Service. An AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team is a group of 8-12 volunteers who travel to areas in need lending their services to a non-profit organization six to eight weeks at a time for ten months. Our *NCCC team was a select group of individuals who scraped, caulked, glazed and primed each property. The transformation that occurred on these houses in such a short time left me in awe of what can be done by motivated, hard working people.
The week before the event was hectic, with long days of work making sure everything was ready. Contact lists were made, logistics were solidified and rain plans were drawn up. When February 15th finally did come, it was a whirlwind. I was the point of contact for the NBA, so I spent a good deal of my time answering questions and providing information to NBA staff. The morning brought NBA volunteers from around the world, including journalists, businessmen and other NBA VIPs. All of the homeowners were out in the street telling their stories to volunteers, engaging them with personal tragedies and unshakable optimism. Jerome Richardson, who lives in a trailer behind his mother’s home at 937 Lizardi, showed volunteers a photograph of himself from the Times-Picayune being rescued out of his attic after the storm. Sidney Davis, who lives at 941 Lizardi, could not hide his smile as he saw his house receive a fresh, new look. Throughout the morning, I introduced the Rebuilding Together program to celebrities and WNBA players alike. I met James Lafferty, James Kyson Lee and WNBA stars Simone Augustus and Sheryl Swoopes. They were all excited to be there and helped to paint five of the nine exteriors while talking with the homeowners. Like most of the RTNO staff, I painted and landscaped alongside NBA volunteers, telling them how I came to work here in New Orleans.
The afternoon brought heavy rain, but thanks to the RTNO and NBA leadership, the volunteer experience was still worthwhile for the afternoon volunteers. They painted interior walls, installed radiant barriers and continued their landscaping work in front of homes. NBA players LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh, Deron Williams, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash came to the site in the afternoon as well. With their ponchos and work gloves on, they painted the interior of a home and scraped paint off of windows. It was admirable to see that they stayed longer than the usual five-minute “look-I’m-holding-a-paintbrush” photo-op. They were also well spoken and fully understood the meaning of what they were doing here in New Orleans. Dirk Nowitzki exemplified the importance of having NBA players visit the Holy Cross neighborhood: “It’s been two and a half years ago and it’s pretty sad to see. So maybe we can come here and get some publicity going and show that this area definitely needs help. It’s tough. Us being here, that can raise some awareness. If you look downtown, it’s not that bad. But you take a trip outside, it’s definitely still tough to see and very sad.”
The event was an overwhelming success, both in terms of the awareness it created and the life it instilled into the Holy Cross neighborhood. Rebuilding Together was featured on ESPN and NBATV as well as in print articles across North America. It is truly amazing to see bright, new facades and landscaping on properties along the 900 block of Lizardi Street. As many of the sportswriters commented about the event, thanks to Rebuilding Together, the NBA, and so many others, Holy Cross received an assist in their efforts to rebound, and it was a slam dunk for New Orleans.