In February, rebuilding volunteers gathered in the Lafayette Region for the eighth consecutive year serving the victims of hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters in South Louisiana. The Lafayette Home Rebuilding Program began informally in August of 2016. Historic flooding caused unprecedented damage to the 22-parish region of Louisiana known as Acadiana. Lafayette Region members joined with local and national disaster response teams to provide immediate assistance to flood victims.
By early 2017, rebuilding efforts became more structured to provide relief directly to homeowners who were “off the grid.” Following the model of the Katrina home rebuilding program (2005-2016), our region partnered with Catholic Charities of Acadiana (CCA) and Rebuilding Together Acadiana (RTA). That partnership continues to this day and allows all three organizations to assist the least fortunate in Acadiana whose homes could not be rebuilt without assistance.
Each rebuilding week is organized to serve disadvantaged homeowners and to build Catholic community within our volunteers. The February rebuilding week brought together knights and dames and other volunteers from throughout the Federal Association and beyond. Skill levels ranged from experienced carpenters to pressure washers with game. As in prior years, the Lafayette Region worked with CCA and RTA in advance to select a home or homes that match the skill sets of our volunteers. RTA then planned the scope of work, assigned a project manager and, through CCA, ordered the building materials needed. At the end of a rebuilding week, the Lafayette Region reimbursed CCA for much of the material costs through a generous grant from the Federal Association.
Volunteers often begin to gather the weekend before work commences. On Sunday evening, we gather for an orientation dinner and RTA tells us about our homeowners and describes the work that we will be doing. On Monday morning, we begin our rebuilding week with Mass in the town closest to the worksites. Since our work this February was in and around Lafayette, Mass was celebrated by our chaplain, the Rev. Brian Harrington, in our beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Then, robes removed, we went directly to worksites in Lafayette and Carencro, Louisiana.
The first day of any project is demolition, everyone’s favorite. Then, comes the rebuilding, usually with the homeowner there, sometimes with the homeowner helping. Tired and sore, we end the workday, take some time to wind down and clean up, and then we gather again for a community meal. Monday and Tuesday evenings are at local Cajun eateries, Wednesday is Rock`n’Bowl and Thursday evening is a thank-you dinner and awards night. This year’s dinner included a tribute to our dear confrere Ted Milos, who was given the “Forgetful of Myself” award posthumously. Ted supported our rebuilding program with his presence and grace each year, and he was missed greatly. May the perpetual light shine upon him.
Watching the rebuilding program develop over time, it is no coincidence seeing how the work now serves well beyond the homeowners we assist. Our rebuilding efforts are covered by all the local television stations (https://www.dropbox.com/s/klo3vji48nojr3u/IMG_5868.MOV?dl=0 ), newspapers, and social media. The work creates a positive energy in our community, encouraging others to find ways to serve the less fortunate. We hear it from friends and colleagues, parishioners and even strangers who see or read about the rebuilding and want to find ways they can become more engaged in helping others. https://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/news/in-north-lafayette-volunteers-focus-on-home-repairs/article_e081f78a-ac70-11ed-8692-134e8fbbe0b3.html
At this year’s Thursday night dinner, one of our volunteers told the group that, for him, the rebuilding weeks are second only to Lourdes in providing community and renewal through sacrificial, yet joyful service to those in need. Indeed, our homeowners are very much our malades who allow us to be their servants for the week, and we pray that we may have the grace to let them be our servants too.