Willie Palmer’s Story

Willie Palmer's PaintingWillie Palmer had just finished repairing his kitchen the week that Katrina hit. He had lived in his house since 1962. Mr. Palmer, a retired shuttle driver, keeps a tidy home.  He enjoys working with his hands – everything from making his own computer, to playing video games with his grandson, to hand painting the art that adorns his home.

But neither his computer, nor his video game, nor his art made it with him when he evacuated.  Like the rest of New Orleanians, he didn’t think the evacuation would last and believed he’d return home within a few days. He and his family, including his daughter and grandson, took two cars and drove to Texas.

After moving from Houston, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, Mr. Palmer finally returned home— to a trailer provided by FEMA.  His home had contained few salvageable items.

“The water came up and washed everything away.  Toys from the closet were on the floor in the living room,” Mr. Palmer said. His car was totaled and his tools were gone –$40,000 worth of his belongings was gone.

But Mr. Palmer did not give up.  Eventually, he contacted Operation Helping Hands to have his home repainted. He said, “I would have been out there with the volunteers painting, if I didn’t think I was in the way!”  The volunteers that helped with the exterior painting of his house were from Chicago and were “always dancing and painting…they were too much fun for one person.”

Mr. Palmer's house was painted by Operation Helping Hands volunteersOperation Helping Hands rebuilds homes for elderly, disabled and low-income homeowners, but the program also uses volunteers to paint home exteriors. This program has painted nearly 400 homes since July 2007. Years ago, Mr. Palmer would have done the work himself, he said, but current medical conditions leave him unable to exert too much energy.  So, Adrian Manriquez, the force behind the paint program, his 3 person long-term volunteer paint crew and a revolving team of short term volunteers took over the job for him.

“I appreciate those guys so much. I’m so grateful for it, I can’t explain,” said Mr. Palmer.