Make It Right began building homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward in 2008. At the time, neighborhoods across the city were on their way to recovery – but, in the community hardest hit by the storm, families still lived in FEMA trailers and many wondered if they would ever see their neighbors again.
On the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, what matters most to us is sharing the stories of resilient, relentless people who are still working to reclaim their vibrant community. Some call them survivors; others say they are pioneers. They are families, neighbors and friends, working together to rebuild all that was lost.
In August 2005, Leslie Archie, 55, was at home in the Lower 9th Ward house where she’d lived her entire life, enjoying summer vacation from her job as an elementary school teacher. “I lived in that home for 45 years. It was all I knew,” says Leslie. Like many families in the neighborhood, Leslie’s parents purchased the home and handed it down to her.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed Leslie’s family home. Mold reached to the ceiling and everything inside was wrecked.
After the storm, Leslie and her daughter Lakiwa lived in a FEMA trailer parked in her brother’s driveway for several years, even as their family grew to include Lakiwa’s three young children.
In 2010, Leslie met with Make It Right’s homeowner services team and asked about rebuilding her family home. She chose a house designed by architect Hitoshi Abe, selected the paint colors as a nod to her favorite basketball team (New Orleans’ Hornets, before they became the Pelicans) and surprised her grandchildren with a new home in June 2011.
Today Leslie and Lakiwa are raising their family in the neighborhood where both women grew up. “This home is truly a blessing,” says Leslie. “Before Katrina, I paid at least $300 a month in power bills. Now I pay just $40 – and I don’t worry anymore.”
“When I walked into this home, it felt like I was walking into a palace.”Leslie Archie
A contractor with 20 years experience building homes, Charles was working on a big job in August 2005 – building a dream house for a doctor and a lawyer in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood. “This house was beautiful, three stories, lots of carpentry work. I was very proud of that house,” he says.
“I was two weeks away from handing over the keys to the homeowners when the hurricane hit. When I came back to New Orleans a week and a half after Katrina, that house was the first place I went.”
The first floor was full of water. Someone had rowed a boat into the ground floor and taken shelter from the flood on the upper floors. The homeowners never moved in; they sold the property and relocated.
A couple years later, Charles was sitting in a bar in Metarie and ran into old friends, fellow contractors who were working on a new project. They told Charles about Make It Right and how they were helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.
Make It Right hired Charles and paired his team with another contractor to build his first house. “Working alongside people experienced in green construction was the best way to learn,” says Charles.
Today, after building 30 houses for Make It Right, he often trains new contractors in the sustainable building methods he’s learned. And he uses his training building homes all over the city. “I learned advanced framing at Make It Right and I use it on all of my projects now. It saves money for my clients because we use a lot less lumber.”
Charles is busier than ever now, sometimes building 15 houses at once for Make It Right and other clients around New Orleans. But he remains extremely proud of his work in the Lower 9th Ward.
“These folks have been through so much. And it just makes me want to do the best job I can for them.”Charles
Dominque Nantambu’s life has changed a lot in the ten years since Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, she was living with her family and dating her high school sweetheart, Kwame. In the storm, Kwame and Dominique’s families both lost their houses and all their possessions. Worst of all, Dominique’s grandfather passed away.
Both families were displaced in Atlanta and Baton Rogue for several years. But, says Dominique, “through the heartbreaking loss, we drew closer together.”
While displaced from the city they had lived all their lives, the couple married and had their first child. And they were the first in their families to return to New Orleans and build a home through Make It Right. “We did it and we kind of spearheaded the rest of our family coming home.”
Dominique, a painter and sculptor, loved working with New Orleans architect Byron Mouton on the design of her home. “I was thrilled with every part of building this house, from looking at the layout with the architect to picking paint colors. I loved everything about it.”
Today, Dominique and Kwame have three children. “I can’t imagine raising them anywhere else, without the beauty and the culture of New Orleans. I know for a fact that, with three small children, we wouldn’t have a house like this without Make It Right.”
“It warms my heart to know we live in a house that is earth-friendly and green.” Dominque Nantambu
Across the street and a few doors down from Leslie’s house, Melba Leggett-Barnes lives in one of the first homes built by Make It Right. Her new house sits on the same spot where family members built their first home in the 1930s.
In 2005, Melba was living in the Lower 9th Ward in her family home, caring for two elderly parents. In March, her mother died; three months later, her father died. Her parents left everything they had to Melba, including the home. A month later, Katrina took all of it away.
After all her hardships, no one would have blamed Melba for never coming back to New Orleans. But she was one of the first to return to her community.
Since moving into her new home in 2008, she’s been a leader in bringing other neighbors home. When she’s not working in a school cafeteria, Melba enjoys cooking and gardening.
“I have 15 solar panels on my house. And my electric bill is $23 a month! Everybody needs a solar house.”Melba Leggett-Barnes
Families like these still need your help. Please give.