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New Orleans pastors get help from churches across country

A post-Katrina initiative teams up churches nationwide to help rebuild displaced congregations.

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The rewards of lending a hand

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At Central Baptist, they find it challenging and rewarding. The church embraced the idea of "accompaniment" – walking in the shoes of the New Orleans church, says Jan Corbett, co-chair of the Central partnership task force.

They're helping support the at-risk youth program, which will train young people as musicians. They've identified counseling resources for Boutte to call on when hurting church members talk of suicide. And they've gone together to Washington to talk about Gulf Coast issues.

At the same time, they've gained knowledge of important issues relating to their own city. "We've learned about affordable housing, infrastructure rebuilding, ecosystem restoration – working together has been a real gift," says Katy Friggle-Norton, the other Central co-chair.

Four New Orleans churches that have gotten back in shape are relinquishing their partners early, so they can help others in need. "We haven't gotten as many partnerships as we hoped, but the ones we have have been so productive and hopeful that we just thank God for what we've got," says the Rev. Dwight Webster, CSC's national project director.

The various denominations on CSC's national working group recruit for partner churches. They have supported the pastor institutes and rehab of churches and housing. The Mennonite Central Committee, for instance, has contributed $135,000. Church of the Brethren has given small grants and donated books to help replace church libraries that were destroyed.

It's also working on remodeling four apartment complexes owned by one of the churches in the Lower Ninth Ward, says Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Washington Office.

The local pastors' group chose six of the 12 neighborhoods and hired area coordinators to do video mapping and work out plans for possible clusters of affordable housing. They'll then go to the city with proposals.

The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation is currently considering their grant application to build three housing units as a model, says Mr. Jehnsen of the CSC.

Homes yet to be rebuilt

This is a good time to start the neighborhood projects, says Ms. Rose of PolicyLink, which issued a 2008 report on the housing crisis.

Only one of every three damaged affordable rental units in New Orleans will be repaired or replaced with recovery aid, the study says. In March 2009, disaster rental assistance will end for 28,000 families nationwide – 14,000 in metro New Orleans – still relying on the program.

Some homeowners are finally getting money from the federal 'Road Home' program and returning. Still, most did not get enough to cover the cost of home repairs, PolicyLink says. The average recipient fell more than $35,000 short.

And it's not only housing challenges, as Boutte found on a recent door-to-door community survey. "There's a high level of elderly, some house-bound, as well as young people without high school diplomas feeling helpless," says the pastor. "We have to be realistic about what we can do. We'll start with what services we can provide the home-bound."

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