Parish President Tommy Martinez praised the project - the Ascension Fire House - during a recent open house for the Class of 2011's offering.

Parish residents who lose their homes to fires or other disasters will now be able to occupy this parish-owned residence on La. 621 temporarily instead of having to rent a hotel room, class member Meghann Morin said.

Morin and 14 other class members banded together during the past year to convert the residence from an office into a temporary shelter that sleeps up to six people.

She and her teammates spent many nights and weekends working on the project, and estimate they received about $50,000 in materials donated by area businesses.

Leadership Ascension recruits up-and-coming professionals working in the parish. Class members learn about the area?s services - education, police and fire, nonprofit organizatons and hospitals - and work on coming up with solutions to various problems in the community.

The project came about, Morin said, because there is no source of funding in Ascension Parish to provide such temporary shelter.

That task generally falls to the Red Cross.

Nancy Malone, who works for the Louisiana Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross in Baton Rouge, said when a family is in crisis, it's more comforting to stay somewhere that looks like home and has all the amenities of home, such as a kitchen, a bedroom for the children, and a living room with a television set.

"It was an astronomical amount of work that was done," said Gonzales Fire Chief Tracey Normand, who is also part of this year's Leadership Ascension class.

Projects from two previous years have benefited the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, Normand said.

In 2010, Leadership Ascension adopted the Mass Casualty Response Unit as its project. The group converted a 1993 Ford school bus into an oversized ambulance, capable of holding up to 12 horizontal stretchers, Martinez said, and donated it to the OEP.

The year before, the class produced Oxygen 2 Ascension, a mobile oxygen tank refilling station, also donated to the OEP.

Crystal Moran, who worked on that 2009 Leadership Ascension project, said at the time that law enforcement authorities were kept busy after major storms, such as hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, helping residents with special medical needs, and those dependent on oxygen are among the most vulnerable.

Moran's class bought a trailer with 10 oxygen tanks capable of refilling up to 300 portable oxygen bottles on-site.

That would relieve both law enforcement personnel and emergency responders the next time a storm triggers long-term power outages, Moran said, in addition to relieving area emergency rooms, which is where most residents with special needs end up.

All of the projects were funded through grants or private donations.

Normand said the city of Gonzales is looking for grant funding to buy its own medical-grade oxygen generator, which would allow his department to replenish the oxygen supply in the Oxygen 2 Ascension trailer during prolonged power outages.

Ultimately, Normand said, all three projects have made Ascension Parish a nicer, safer place to live.

C.J. Futch covers Gonzales city government for The Advocate. Her email address is