Sponsored Series: In New Orleans, the St. Bernard Project is Proving There's No Place Like Home

Learn about St. Bernard Project, one of the most recognized and inspiring organizations dedicated to rebuilding homes after Katrina.

GOOD and Toyota, co-sponsors of the People Are Awesome series, bring you additional stories about individuals and organizations that are making a positive impact in our world.

When Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney took a trip to help rebuild homes in post-Katrina New Orleans, they intended to stay two weeks. But that all changed when they saw the scale of need when they arrived. Even six months after the hurricane, homeowners were still living in deplorable, substandard conditions.

Rosenburg, a lawyer, and McCartney, a teacher, had no family ties in New Orleans and had no experience working in disaster recovery or construction, but the slow pace of recovery efforts spurred them to action. Inspired by the perseverance of the community and frustrated by the redundancy, lack of coordination, and efficiency of the recovery efforts, they left their lives in Washington D.C. and moved to New Orleans. “It was our only choice: we could be part of the problem, or we could be part of the solution,” Rosenburg says.

They established St. Bernard Project (SBP), a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding homes in New Orleans. Named after one of the hardest hit parishes, SBP serves the St. Bernard Parish area, the only U.S. county to have been declared 100 percent uninhabitable after a natural disaster. After the flood waters receded, only eight homes in the parish (of more than 27,000) were deemed safe.

Since its inception in 2006, SBP has grown into one of the most recognized organizations dedicated to rebuilding New Orleans and oversees hundreds of dedicated volunteers as they work to construct homes. It has expanded with additional programs that offer mental and health services, jobs for returning veterans, and homeowners assistance. The organization works on 30 to 50 housing projects simultaneously, with each historically taking 12 to 18 weeks for completion.

Recently, SBP collaborated with Toyota to analyze shortcomings and develop a greater understanding about their building processes. No strangers to efficient manufacturing, the car company dispatched a team from the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC), its nonprofit affiliate comprised of production experts from across Toyota's manufacturing divisions. As highly trained experts in production efficiency, this team helps hundreds of organizations learn principles of quality, safety, productivity, and cost. “Toyota believes in efficiency,” explains Rosenburg. “When they first came in they asked us, ‘Are you ahead or behind?’” Once the weak spots were identified, Toyota and SBP worked together to standardize processes across all the house projects in progress.

As a result of this collaboration, SBP significantly improved efficiency, cutting the amount of time volunteers spend building houses to 6 weeks in some cases, a 50 percent reduction. Across the board, overall construction decreased by 30 percent and with Toyota's help, they reduced the time and resources needed for repairing work. Every minute saved helps families get back into their homes more quickly and helps the organization move on to the next person in need. One of those people was Me'shelle Williams, who told Rosenburg, "Katrina took my childhood away. By rebuilding my home, [SBP has] given back my childhood.” She moved back into her home a full five years after Katrina.

So far, the SBP has mobilized 36,000 dedicated volunteers and built more than 400 homes for residents of New Orleans. Their work won’t end when they build the last house for Katrina survivors, however. Rosenburg sees a future where they will take their knowledge learned from both their collaboration with Toyota and their on the ground experience rebuilding homes to develop a model for future disaster recovery teams, both in the United States and abroad.

Currently, SBP has a waiting list of 130 families hoping to rebuild their homes, with more applying every week. Click here to learn more about Toyota's collaboration with SBP. And learn more about how you can help SBP and families rebuilding their homes in New Orleans, click here.

Photo 1 via Flickr user St. Bernard Project

Photos 2 and 3 via Toyota in Action

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less