Holy Cross residents were recently treated to complimentary hot dogs, nachos and snowballs as they came to see the progress at 5227 Chartres St. Volunteers renovated a 100-year-old Creole cottage there, which will soon become the office and educational center for the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.
Visitors wandered in and out of the four rooms, examining photographs tacked onto the bare wood walls that showed scores of groups clearing brush and ripping out old drywall, plaster and several layers of wallpaper.
The United States Green Building Council Louisiana has selected the CSED center as its 2014 Legacy Project. The Legacy Project fund amount is $12,900. It will be showcased at the USGBC Greenbuild International conference in New Orleans, Oct. 22-23.
The center will demonstrate energy-efficient upgrades that are affordable and can be replicated in low-income communities, including foam board insulation, air ceiling, landscaping for shade and rain gardens for water control.
“We will be able to do workshops for people interested in sustainable housing and water management, particularly in underserved communities,” said Arthur Johnson, CSED executive director.
“CSED might also have materials and labor to help residents,” Johnson said.
For several years, staff members have operated out of cramped quarters in the back of the Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1900. From that tiny office space, five full-time employees have coordinated thousands of volunteers arriving in the city with the desire to help residents still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
“I truly appreciate all of the wonderful volunteers that continue to come and help us rebuild our homes, lives and Lower 9th Ward community,” said Warrenetta Banks, who matches volunteers with local projects.
Two years ago, Nelvie Mae Winter, a former Holy Cross resident, donated the barge-board house and 7,500-square-foot lot on Chartres Street to support the organization’s work. The house had been unoccupied and untended since before the storm, so overgrown foliage and trees practically engulfed it.
Volunteers from all over the country with American Baptist Home Mission Societies were first to tackle the overgrowth.
“It is our desire to bring hope and the good news to residents of the Lower 9th Ward,” said Victoria Goff, who coordinates American Baptist volunteers from across the country.
“They cleared the property and filled three or four dumpsters,” said Vincent Fedeli, senior program manager.
More volunteers from churches, schools, universities, professional groups and industry conferences followed and have contributed to the renovation. Many volunteers return year after year.
“Some create relationships with the homeowners, come back and hang out with them,” Fedeli said.
Fedeli was an AmeriCorps Vista Program volunteer for a year working with Global Green’s Build It Back Green Program before being hired by CSED as its energy efficiency and urban farm coordinator. As a certified home energy rater, he conducts walk-through energy assessments, counseling homeowners about ways to make their homes more energy- efficient.
“Some residents are still paying up to $500 per month for air conditioning,” Fedeli said.
Many Lower 9th Ward residents live on fixed incomes —elderly, retired or disabled — so reducing energy costs makes a big difference, he said.
Another former Vista volunteer and architect Andrew Spaulding created the plans for the house, which call for a solar thermal panel for heating water; refurbished, double-hung windows; and a thermal boundary that will completely insulate the house. On the property, CSED staff will create raised vegetable garden beds, a garden shed, green wall trellis, rain garden and citrus orchard.
The house will continue to serve as headquarters for volunteer groups. A community service deck is planned for the back of the house, where volunteers can eat lunch overlooking the gardens and have direct access to a bathroom.
“We want them to know we’re very thankful to them,” Fedeli said of the volunteers who continue to arrive weekly to assist residents in rebuilding their lives.
“You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. It’s the love we are so grateful to receive from each of our amazing volunteers,” Banks said.