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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Greencastle resident heading back to New Orleans

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Abby Tonsing, Melissa Burton and Indy New celebrate finishing their week of building last year in New Orleans with a visit to the French Quarter. The three women are heading back for a third year this summer to work with Americorps' New Orleans rebuilding program.
Indy New is passionate about helping rebuild homes and the lives of people in New Orleans following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

The Greencastle resident is preparing to head to New Orleans for her third year volunteering for a week with Americorps and the St. Bernard Parish project.

Three years ago, New, along with friends and DePauw Alumni Abby Tonsing and Melissa Burton, contacted a Women's Build group in Bloomington to help with Habitat for Humanity style building. The group was booked, so they began looking for another project.

They found an organization in New Orleans called Habitat-Nola.org and were told to "come on down."

On Aug. 1, the three women loaded their car and headed to Louisiana.

"We had no idea what we were getting into at the time," said New. "We were housed at an elementary school in St. Bernard Parrish just south of the Ninth Ward, which was 100 percent wiped out by Katrina."

For $25 a day, the women got a bunk bed, breakfast and dinner and a packed lunch. The school had been rehabbed enough to support volunteers and at the same time was being rebuilt to open as a school.

New grew teary-eyed as she described not only the devastation that surrounded them, but the bonds that she developed with the other volunteers staying in the school.

"There were people from Boston, New York, Delaware and Florida. We have grown really close. We all went back the second year. Driving down we were texting back and forth with the girls from Boston and laughing all the way down," said New.

The group has remained in close contact for nearly three years now.

"We talk online or text each other all the time. I really have developed some special relationships with this group of 11 people. It's hard to explain, but it's very special," she reflected.

DePauw staffer Mark Holloway joined the group the second year. This time around, they stayed at a four-bedroom volunteer house for $20 a night because the school had been re-opened.

"This house was purchased by a doctor and lawyer couple for $12,000 who turned it into a volunteer house," said New.

Nine members of the group are returning for a third year. They will leave for New Orleans in two weeks. They rent a car now because the first year their car was hit by a construction vehicle and damaged.

"People down here don't have insurance. They can't afford it. The car had to be turned in for uninsured motorists so now we just rent one," she explained.

To help pay for the trip, the group holds a large garage sale every year in Bloomington. They are accepting items for the sale and will take monetary donations as well.

Anyone who wants to donate can contact New at Chief's Restaurant where she works. The number is 301-4135. They will come and pick up items.

"The work down there is hard. It is really hot and humid and you sweat all the time but we are all so passionate about helping," added New. "The people are so warm and gracious."

She has hundreds of pictures showing the devastation, the rebuilding and the large number of homes marked for demolition.

"Sixty percent of the population didn't return after leaving. Most people stayed in Texas where they could get work. There was no way for them to make money here and their homes were ruined," said New.

She claims things are improving and the city is still breathing. The famous French Quarter was not seriously damaged and has managed to revive itself.

"Still, the people who worked in the restaurants and hotels didn't come back so many haven't reopened," said New. "Houses are selling for $175,000 in nice neighborhoods even though they have to be rehabbed."

Someday, New would like to move to New Orleans. She is currently going to school at St. Mary of the Woods, majoring in humanities and minoring in Political Science.

"I would like to eventually work with groups like these non-profits. I love New Orleans. There is something very special about the city," she noted.

Anyone who would like to donate items for the group's garage sale or make monetary donations to help them with expenses can contact New at Chief's Restaurant in Greencastle at 301-4135. For information about the rebuilding program go to www.habitat-nola.org, or to www.stbernardproject.org

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Nice article! Thanks, Jerri Chalfant (Indy's Momma)

-- Posted by Jerri2111 on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 10:07 AM

Melissa's last name is Britton.

-- Posted by depauwgrad on Tue, Jul 14, 2009, at 11:44 AM

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