Spirit of Hope Program Helps Navigate Complex Rebuilding Process

Friends and family joined Betty Thomas (far right) in her renovated kitchen at her homecoming, including (L to R) Mary Ussin, Estelle Johnson, Tammy Mosley, Eula Lee Nicholas, and Brenda Foucher.

On April 5th, Westbank resident Betty Thomas was greeted by a group of family and church friends at her Shirley Drive home for a welcome back celebration following lengthy renovations. The day was long overdue since her home was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ida in 2021. 

Known for her baking skills in the kitchen, Betty was referred to as the “Ooey Gooey Cake Queen” during her homecoming, which also included representatives of the numerous organizations that helped get Betty back in her home.

The celebration was a stark contrast to the last few years, where Betty, 78, was uncertain what each next day would bring. 

The stress of rebuilding following a natural disaster can be difficult for most people, but even more so for the elderly and disabled. Navigating the red tape and minutiae of getting approval and paying for repairs, finding reputable contractors, all while finding a place to sleep each night, is in itself a full-time job. That’s when someone like Cheryl Strickland can be your biggest champion.

Cheryl is the Disaster Case Management Program Liaison Supervisor for Spirit of Hope, Catholic Charities disaster response program that provides supportive services for the families and individuals living in Louisiana’s coastal parishes.

“When Cheryl came on board, everything kind of came together. She connected the dots. I didn’t know where to start,” said Mary Ussin, MBU Professional Services Advocate for Seniors, and family friend of Betty, who also organized her coming home party.

“It’s nice to have someone in your corner who knows the processes.”

Cheryl ultimately worked with several nonprofits and organizations that could help with Betty’s home repairs, including:

  • A total interior gutting from Divine Demolition, made possible by donations from friends, family and fellow church members of Olive Branch Baptist Church
  • Dumpster donation from Demo Diva for commencement of project
  • Interior rebuild from Project 1 Developments
  • $15,000 fortified roof from Rebuilding Together New Orleans, who also donated materials for the drywall 
  • United Way, which donated $20,000 in materials and labor
  • The Salvation Army, which provided $15,000 in materials and labor
  • Hands on New Orleans, which contributed $1,154 for materials and labor; and 
  • Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, which also donated a dumpster and recruited youth volunteers to clear the overgrown property

Betty Thomas and Cheryl Strickland from Spirit of Hope.

Cheryl recognizes how much independence and having your own space means to a person. 

“Being able to help someone get back in their house is where my heart is at. It’s all about the survivors and Ms. Betty is able to be back in her home and live independently and not have to go to a nursing home,” Cheryl said.

Hopefully being back home will now allow Betty to relax a little and once again share some of that infamous Ooey Gooey Cake with friends and family.