The heat index crept over 100 before 9:00 am, but by that point, the New Orleans Saints roster of nearly 85 players and 16 coaches were hard at work helping to restore four homes in the Hollygrove neighborhood in New Orleans. The temperature didn't seem to matter, rather the impact of the day is what seemed to strike the biggest chord on this day for the Saints.
In the final week of organized team activities, Head Coach Sean Payton instructed his team to put the helmets and footballs down for the day and turn their attention to one block of homes in a city with too many blocks of homes that remain ravaged nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City.
Thus, with the helmets and uniforms down, the hammers, paint brushes, rakes, edgers, power drills, shovels, and assorted other tools were picked up and the Saints went to work, hand-in-hand, with Rebuilding Together New Orleans, Inc., with the intent to finish four houses for families.
"It's an awesome sight," said Payton as he stood over a metal fence that he and four other players were sanding rust off of and applying a fresh coat of black paint. "The guys know how important these type of things are to our community. We are all in this together. This is our city. This is our home. We are just doing a small part, but it matters to the people that live here and it shows we care about them."
Across the street from where Payton stood, punter Steve Weatherford and long snapper Devery Henderson/Kevin Houser.aspx">Kevin Houser carefully measured wood planks, trimmed the pieces with a power saw and oversaw the construction of a new pine fence surrounding the perimeter of a home, while linebackers coach Joe Vitt, tight end Buck Ortega and kicker Martin Gramatica carefully and diligently applied a level to each slate of wood that went on the fence and hammered and drilled the slates.
Inside the fence and in the yard, safety Chris Reis, running backs Pierre Thomas, Deuce McAllister and Aaron Stecker cleaned the yard of debris and discarded sheet rock and removed old stumps and masonry and planted trees, shrubs and new stone work.
While inside the house, linebackers Scott Fujita, Mark Simoneau, Scott Shanle, defensive end Charles Grant and tight end Eric Johnson applied a fresh coat of primer to every room in the house.
"This house was down to its studs just a few days ago," marveled a volunteer from Rebuilding Together. "These guys rolled in here today and went right to work. I think the people that own this home will be back in here in a few more days."
Three houses down, quarterbacks Drew Brees, Mark Brunell, Tyler Palko, along with running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver David Patten, among others, attacked the exterior of the home and applied two fresh coats of oil based paint and the house seemingly sprang to life in the matter of four hours. High lifts propelled the players and coaches to the upper reaches of the home, and a fresh coat of white trim paint accented the yellow hue of the home as neighbors watched in amazement at the efficiency of the teamwork the 100 strong applied to the tasks.
"Living here and playing here in New Orleans is a privilege," said Bush. "To be able to come out here as a team and make a difference is special. A woman that lives here in the neighborhood told me that it gives this community a sense of pride that the Saints came out here and lent a helping hand. I think we are all taking something very positive away from this experience."
Four motor coaches, escorted by members of the New Orleans Police Department, made the short trip down the Earhart Expressway at 7:45 this morning en route to the neighborhood 10 minutes away from the Saints' complex. And following a short thank you and brief instructions from a volunteer from Rebuilding Together, the team broke up into smaller groups and went to work.
Offensive tackles Jammal Brown and Jon Stinchcomb manned a landscaping crew and set out clearing the yard of debris and overgrown brush and cleared a plot of land in short order and watched as offensive coordinator Doug Marrone and a crew constructed a new shed. The sounds of power equipment echoed through the neighborhood as the corner home morphed over the four hours the team spent on the property.
Center Matt Lehr, guard David Thomas/Tim Duckworth.aspx">Tim Duckworth and offensive tackle Zach Strief constructed a new air conditioner stand for two units on the property of Alex Tumblin, who proudly sat on his front porch in a wheelchair as the players busily worked just a few feet away from him.
"I've been a Saints fan for as long as I can recall," said Tumblin. "I have never been more proud to say that than I am today. This is a miracle. When they told me yesterday that some Saints were coming out to help, I thought a few guys would be coming down here. I never expected to see the whole team here and working together so hard and so well. Just look at this. It's incredible."
Across the street from Tumblin's home another crew of Saints players constructed and installed brand new latticework to the lower sections of a home. Tight end Ronnie Ghent and linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Marvin Mitchell playfully kidded each other about their handyman skills, while a young boy from the neighborhood chipped in and hurriedly supplied the players with nails and cement screws.
Saints Owner Tom Benson, along with his wife Gayle, and Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis stopped by to visit and inspect the work that the members of the Saints provided.
"This is something else to see," said Benson. "Look how hard this men are working and how proud they are of what they are doing. Each one of these men really cares and want to make a difference. It's a heartwarming day for all of us and it makes me very proud."
Benson and the Saints quietly donated $50,000 to purchase the supplies and equipment for the projects, while Saints corporate partner Lowe's and handfuls of their associates where on hand to lend support and advice for the myriad of projects that were getting accomplished.
As the members of the Saints concluded their work, safety Roman Harper undertook perhaps the most meaningful task of the day at the residence of Reedell Parker's home. Armed with a wire brush and an industrial soap, Harper and some teammates scrubbed the faded, but still visible spray paint that was once hastily applied to the exterior of the home by members of the National Guard that combed the neighborhoods of New Orleans in the days following the storm searching for survivors or, in some cases, bodies of those that succumbed to the Hurricane Katrina.
Harper knew the magnitude of what he was doing and of the long road that Parker and his family have traveled to get back into their home and quietly remarked as he scrubbed, "This represents a fresh start for their family."
The homes that the Saints worked on and a thumbnail on each:
Reedell Parker, 8837-39 Belfast St. Parker, 36, worked as a pest control specialist and in warehousing until a car accident took his sight in 2001. His home suffered flooding damage after Hurricane Katrina and he has been living with different family members since. The insurance money he received fell short to finish the repairs and he was accepted in the Rebuilding Together program in 2008. His yard was re-landscaped, a new fensc was constructed, while the interior of his home was sanded and painted
Harry Vanderson, 8817 Belfast St. Vanderson has owned his Hollygrove home since 1972. He lives in the house with his son and his son's wife liviw in the upstairs apartment. Mr. Vanderson evacuated to Gray, La., then lived in a FEMA trailer for two years. He was able to move back into his home and with thehelp of Rebuilding Together and the repairs to his home were completed today.
Doris Garrett, 8918 Belfast St. Garrett, 80 has been a resident of New Orleans for over 50 years, and the owner of her home for over 36. She was forced to retire in 1988 after suffering a stroke. Ms. Garret evacuated to Lake Charles, and then proceeded to Georgia. She returned when FEMA delivered a trailer to her property, where she lived for two years. A few months ago she moved into her unfinished home. Today the work on her home was completed.
Alex Tumblin, 8832 Belfast St., 87 has lived in New Orleans since 1970. A retired dock worker, Mr. Tumblin was forced from his home by Katrina and spent a month as a refugee in various places including Texas and Jefferson Parish. Rebuilding Together and the Saints cleaned his lot, built a new exterior fence fronting the street and repainted his side fence. In addition, team members rebuilt his AC stands and assembled and installed a new shed in his backyard.
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