THE IMAGES FROM NEW ORLEANS, one year after Hurricane Katrina, are familiar; houses remain uninhabitable, residents are living in trailers, and many families are separated. The lack of recovery in this region, and the historic Ninth Ward in particular, prompted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 164, based in Paramus, N.J., to partner with Rebuilding Together Bergen County to support REBUILD 1000!, a national effort to rehabilitate 1,000 Gulf Coast houses affected by last year’s storms.
Rebuilding Together Bergen County dispatched a total of 19 volunteers, including five fully certified Local 164 electricians, to the area. During the six-day period, the skilled craftsmen and women and lay workers worked on four homes. Local 164’s electrical workers completed a comprehensive rewiring of two homes, corrective wiring in one home, as well as the restoration of complete electrical service to all four residences.
“Pictures of the devastation that remains in the Ninth Ward do not represent the dire reality these people are facing on a daily basis,” said Carl Fry of Wyckoff, N.J., an electrical project manager and member of the board of directors of Rebuilding Bergen County, who volunteered.
“From the odor of mold and water damage, to the lack of industry and jobs, it seems dismal. But there is hope. And where there is hope, there is a strong desire to move forward,” he said.
For Major Lawrence T. Weathersby Sr. of the New Orleans Police Department, the Rebuilding Together team turned hope into reality. Weathersby wanted to help his father—whose home in the lower Ninth Ward was completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina—restore the house for occupancy.
“This house is where I grew up, and it holds a lot of memories,” he said. “I am very grateful to our new friends from New Jersey for all they did to help us and our neighbors.”
In addition to donating skills and materials to the rebuilding effort, Local 164 donated $10,000 to the brotherhood’s Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund immediately following the storm. Funds provided short- and long-term assistance to union members and other residents who lost homes and jobs as a result of the storm.
REBUILD 1000! was launched through a cooperative partnership between Rebuilding Together and lead sponsor Countrywide Financial Corp. Additional sponsors of the effort include The Home Depot, American Petroleum Institute, Fannie Mae and the New Orleans Saints.
“Together with our national organization, Rebuilding Together Bergen County has an opportunity, along with supporting organizations like IBEW Local 164, to reach out and restore Gulf region homes to safe, warm and familiar surroundings,” said Gretchen Viggiano, executive director.
Each year, the Bergen County affiliate sponsors “Rebuilding Together Bergen County,” a one-day home repair and renovation program. This past April, a total of 14 locations throughout the county received an estimated market value of more than $150,000 in repairs as a result of the project. EC