Honoring MLK’s Legacy in Lafayette
“She gives the best hugs.”
Knock, and Miss Mary might open her front door and show you around her recently repaired home. If you’ve got a good heart, she’ll also open her arms and give you a hug.
“She gives the best hugs,” said Jodee Ware, executive director of Rebuilding Together Acadiana.
Miss Mary lives in Lafayette, a city in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, also known as Acadiana. Her home revolves around helping others, and she’s known for inviting people to move in so she can take care of them.
Like other homes in her Lafayette community, Miss Mary’s house was showing signs of age. The siding was rotten, the roof leaked, the walls were worn, the floors were unsafe and termites had invaded. As Miss Mary tells it, there were a lot of repairs she couldn’t afford.
“I remember Jodee coming over here the first day, and she didn’t know a thing about me. She walked up into my house and she saw how messed up it was. We talked about what she wanted to have done in here. I almost couldn’t believe it was true.”
Jodee remembers Miss Mary’s home in a different light.
“I saw her effort and pride. It was spotless. She’d artfully covered the problems. You didn’t know how bad the conditions were in her house until you moved a rug or a painting. Then you’d see it.”
Miss Mary’s home is in Lafayette’s Monroe neighborhood, a working class community filled with small, wood-framed houses, many closing in on a century old. For years, neglected rental properties, blighted vacant buildings, slumlords and high crime levels had dragged the area down. But, more recently, homeowners have become determined to take back their neighborhood – and things in Monroe have started to improve.
Rebuilding Together Acadiana is part of that effort. The staff, volunteers and partners there help homeowners by making critical repairs that improve the health and safety of their homes. These efforts peak during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service (MLK Day), a national call for people to take action to strengthen communities.
Each year on MLK Day, around 150 people come together in Lafayette, including community volunteers, and current and past AmeriCorps members from Rebuilding Together affiliates across the country. They provide a boost of energy, time and skills, allowing Rebuilding Together Acadiana to be more ambitious.
This means the organization can take on “Block Builds,” projects that tackle repairs to multiple homes. In the Monroe neighborhood, the work focuses on four streets surrounding a community park. Miss Mary was one of 13 Monroe homeowners Rebuilding Together Acadiana helped on MLK Day in 2015 and 2016.
During Block Builds, Rebuilding Together goes beyond home repairs to make changes that can transform the entire neighborhood. In Monroe, Rebuilding Together also repaired a community center’s garden, playground and chicken coop.
Looking ahead, Jodee wants Rebuilding Together Acadiana to support more people like Miss Mary by working in the Monroe neighborhood year-round. Jodee has plans to help beautify the local park and rehab the community center.
“We’ve committed to making a difference in this area and we keep chipping away at it. But there’s so much more to do. We need more funding, partners and support.”
The Monroe neighborhood is filled with people who have known their neighbors for a lifetime. People living in their family homes. People who have no intention of leaving. People like Miss Mary. “
I always be telling my children, I am not moving outta here until the last piece fall off of this house. And it almost happened. Thanks to Miss Jodee and them it didn’t. Yes indeed. Yes indeed.”
Rebuilding Together's AmeriCorps program engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.
Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 900,000 AmeriCorps members have contributed more than 1.2 billion hours in service across America while tackling pressing problems and mobilizing millions of volunteers for the organizations they serve.