Six New Orleans Saints players were among the 200 volunteers that took their efforts across the Mississippi River from New Orleans to the Algiers region to help complete renovations on several homes in the city's McClendonville neighborhood.
Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus,defensive end, Junior Galette, kicker Garrett Hartley, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, defensive end Cameron Jordan, tight end Michael Higgins and his wife Tara and the multitude of other volunteers took part in the "Kickoff to Rebuild" event sponsored by the national organization Rebuilding Together and its New Orleans chapter. For 18 years, the national organization has partnered with the Super Bowl in its host cities in working to rebuild homes and revitalize neighborhoods.
"I've been a part of a lot of great events this week, but this one might be tops," said Hicks, a rookie who has participated in several community-related Super Bowl events during the week. "There is no feeling in the world like being able to help people and a whole neighborhood get a new lease on life."
With the help of the organization, the volunteers from across the nation and corporate sponsors to provide building supplies, including Lowes, the group was able to work towards completing no-cost critical home repairs and modifications on ten homes in the neighborhood. These homeowners included veterans from the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, retired couples living on fixed incomes who needed critical repairs and whose homes were also affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Isaac and an artist.
A community playground for the neighborhood's youth also was completed and dedicated in collaboration with HGTV star Carter Oosterhouse and his charity Carter's Kids and a community resource fair took place to help advise residents. At 12:30, a second line band paraded down the street to the park to signal a break for lunch. Following a brief press conference, a barbeque cook-off completion, Toolbelts Tailgates , for which five of the Saints remained to serve as celebrity judges and taste testers to center stage.
Higgins and his wife Tara, a teacher, arrived mid-morning and along with several of her students, attacked the front entrance of a house, painting it in its entirety in three hours.
Hartley and Abdul-Quddus arrived next and worked in tandem on replacing a backyard fence next door to where Higgins' group was painting. For Abdul-Quddus, he admittedly had limited experience in carpentry and handyman's work, but for him, this served as a great opportunity to learn, as well as provide support.
"Having come here to play for the Saints, everybody knows about some of the storms that has affected this area over the past several years," said Abdul-Quddus. "Now having lived in this community for a while, this was a great opportunity to get involved in a great cause. What is better than helping people fix up and improve their homes?"
Following a few promotional photos, Hartley immediately got to work. As a teenager, both to help his family as well as to earn some extra money, the man who booted the Saints into Super Bowl XLIV had experience constructing decks and fences. This came in handy in him working hand-in-hand with a project manager for the house in measuring the wood, sawing and then hammering and drilling the perfect piece to repair the backyard fence.
"I'm really glad that I learned these skills when I was younger," said Hartley. "I've done a couple of these things in the past too, and it's great to be able to make a solid impact on improving people's lives and making things better for them."
The trio of defensive linemen arrived just as the football team from nearby O. Perry Walker High School were taking a break from yard work. They and Hartley stopped and posed for photos with them. Then Galette, Hicks and Jordan set up shop across the street from the other places. The group worked with an army of volunteers in repainting the front of a pair of houses. Jordan at 6-4 and Hicks at 6-5 came in particularly handy to the crews in using their height to paint and touch up some hard to reach areas in the front where a ladder could not go. While most of the players wore gloves conducting their work, Hicks' massive hands would not fit in any of them so he had to paint with painters tape taping him up.