It was an early morning, to say the

With cameras rolling and a local TV reporter doing periodic updates for their morning show, PRC’s Rebuilding Together New Orleans staff began setting up scaffolding and unloading supplies at 5:30 a.m. in preparation for HGTV’s Change the World, Start at Home project. The mood was energized in spite of the early start as the staff worked to prepare the site for volunteers who were recruited in a partnership between HGTV and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Once these volunteers began trickling in, it was immediately obvious that all the hard work that had gone into setting up this enormous project was indeed worth it. Their enthusiasm infused the worksites with excitement and productivity – due not only to the considerable press coverage and expected arrival of famed New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse (crawfish bisque in tow), but also in large part to the two families whose homes the volunteers would be working on throughout the week.

For neighbors Karen Emerson and Eartha Johnson, serving others has
been the focus of their lives, as both their families and careers demonstrate. Emerson, 52, cares for four disabled relatives, in addition to her nine-year career as a caregiver for the sick and disabled. Johnson, who is a psychology professor at the University of New Orleans, has dedicated her life to taking care of her brother Jessie, who has Down’s Syndrome. Every day she transports him back and forth from a school for mentally challenged and disabled adults.

The presence of both these families at the HGTV event was a reminder
for all involved of what rebuilding homes and revitalizing communities is really about- lending a helping hand to deserving families. Of course, having Emeril, Lauren Lake (of HGTV’s Spice Up My Kitchen), a contingent of local politicians, and the press on-site also created awareness for Rebuilding Together and for New Orleans. Although the crawfish bisque Emeril served for lunch was delicious, it was obvious that the main attraction was the two families themselves, and the looks on their faces as they watched their houses transform through the help of HGTV, Rebuilding Together, and the work of dozens of volunteers from around the country.

By the end of the day, after only eight hours of work, the houses, at 4312 and 4319 S. Tonti St. in Broadmoor, appeared dramatically improved. “RTNO is the most professional group at work restoring the homes of low-income homeowners,” said PRC director Patty Gay. “Teamwork at all levels is getting stronger and stronger, and our neighborhoods are all the better for it.” With all the scraping, siding repair, and painting work that had been done by the volunteers, the two houses, which had previously still retained the marks of damage done by Katrina, were clearly emerging as homes fit for these two deserving families.