Fern Lawson considers herself blessed. Ms. Lawson, a native of Louisiana, is finally a homeowner. Recently, she proudly gave us a tour of her Gentilly house, which was renovated by Catholic Charities Operation Helping Hands (OHH). As she spoke, she proudly pointed out cherished family pictures, salvaged relics, and even a photo of the volunteers who helped to rebuild.
Ms. Lawson’s life, like many New Orleanians, has not been easy. Her family evacuated to Killeen, Texas the day before Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area. At one time, there were more than 12 family members staying with her sister until FEMA helped them get an apartment.
OHH Project Manager Russell Greco, Fern Lawson, OHH volunteer Bethany Billman, Ms. Lawson’s daughter Kim Lawson
Ms. Lawson returned to New Orleans in 2006, but could not move back to the house she had left, as the rent had more than doubled in her absence. Due to health conditions, Ms. Lawson was not able to return to the job she had held for 23 years as a laundry supervisor at St. Anthony’s Nursing Home.
Sadly, one of Ms. Lawson’s brothers passed away due to health complications several years after the storm. Ms. Lawson inherited her brother’s flood-damaged home. Ms. Lawson’s son worked on the home with his friends, using his own money since they did not receive any insurance or Road Home funds. However, eventually the money ran out and the work stopped. Kim then suggested applying to Catholic Charities Operation Helping Hands. Once the succession process was complete, OHH volunteers began work on Ms. Lawson’s home.
Both long and short term volunteers from all over the country spent several months working on the home. First, they demolished an old shed in the backyard, then moved on to tiling, painting, flooring, installing doors and completing her kitchen, which Ms. Lawson says is her favorite room in the house. Ms. Lawson could not have been happier with the work completed. When asked about her experience with Operation Helping Hands, she responded that “there was nothing you could have done better. Nothing.”
Ms. Lawson now enjoys sitting on her porch on a hot day, chatting with family members. She lives with her granddaughter, who is in college, and her brother lives just down the street. Ms. Lawson is very happy to finally be a homeowner. To those at Operation Helping Hands who worked on her home, she said, “I am blessed, and I hope you all will be blessed, too.”