When Catholic Heart Camp volunteers showed up at Ferdinand and Annie McIntyre’s mobile home in New Sarpy on Monday, all Annie could say repeatedly was “It’s a blessing.”
They are the latest people helping the retired couple restore their home, proving to be the residence that love is rebuilding for them.
“We’re going to get it painted,” said an elated Annie of a residence they’d been living in with bare sheetrock. “It’s a big blessing, and it’s an out-of-the-blue surprise.”
Although it’s been nearly six years since fire extensively damaged their mobile home on 818 East McAdoo St. in New Sarpy, the retired couple had been struggling to piece their home back together. With a limited income and two grandchildren, 10 and 12, they were raising, affording the work had proven challenging to do on their own.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” Annie said of the day they watched their mobile home burning. “Even now, when I smell smoke I’m checking and looking. It’s like something you don’t forget. It wasn’t a very good feeling.”
The damage was so extensive they had to live with their son for a while, leaving their residence of 22 years.
Help came shortly after their loss.
With the help of the St. Charles United Methodist Church in Destrehan soon after the fire, the couple was able to return to their home. Then came St. Matthew Baptist Church in New Sarpy and Fresh Faith Worship Center, also in Destrehan, that also both intervened by helping re-frame the mobile home.
“The churches did us really good … they really did,” she said. “Everything was sheet-rocked, but we never got a chance to paint it.”
Courtney Saucier, housing rehabilitation specialist with the St. Charles Parish Department of Community Services, said the Catholic Heart Camp volunteers arrived on Monday to finish the job.
It is a particularly welcome surprise that came on Ferdinand’s birthday.
“It was a great gift to him and the McIntyre family,” Saucier said. “They are very thankful for the sacrifices that these volunteers made to come from their homes from across the country to give of themselves on this mission trip and to make a difference in their lives.”
This is the fifth year that the parish’s Community Services Department has partnered with the Catholic Heart Camp.
Julio Ramon, youth leader and team builder, said the Catholic Heart Camp represents more than 300 youths or 30 teams helping people in the New Orleans area for nearly a week. The groups were assigned to different locations such as nursing homes, the Ninth Ward or Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s good to see kids not playing on games all the time and doing work for others,” said Ramon, who represents the team working on the McIntyres’ residence. “It’s good for the soul and refreshing.”
Volunteer Gianna Sanchez, of Wichita, Kan., said she also was on her first mission trip.
“I think it’s really cool,” Sanchez said. “It’s a good thing to help people and a good experience for me.”
She was glad to help to help the McIntyres.
“It’s really humid,” the 15-year-old observed of her first trip to Louisiana.
Volunteer John Hamilton traveled from Lagrange, Ill., for his first mission trip and first time visiting Louisiana.
“I thought it was a great experience just being able to help them,” Hamilton said. “To be able to help them after what happened is great.”
The 16-year-old said he wanted to help others.
“Sometimes I take what I have for granted and seeing other less fortunate people helps, and sometimes it’s just good to help others,” Hamilton said.
Allydale Downey agreed.
The 14-year-old volunteer from southern Indiana was enjoying her first mission trip, too.
“I enjoy being with people,” Downey said. “Our group is one of the only groups that actually got to go to a resident’s house. I got to meet the people and learn the backstory. They’re very nice people. I’ve never really met anybody like them. They’re very humble and very welcoming.”
The volunteers come from all over the country, pay their own way and give their time to help those in need. This week, those volunteers are working all around the New Orleans area with various nonprofits and agencies that provide rebuilding services.
They also volunteer at schools, and two groups are volunteering with summer camps going on at the Killona Community Center and the St. Rose Community Center.
On this trip to the parish, the volunteers also are helping with sheetrock repairs and replacement at Judy Mistretta’s residence in St. Rose, and doing exterior and possible interior painting at Rose Lockett’s residence in Killona.
Their effort is bringing about work that the McIntyres never thought would be done.
“We just moved in as it was,” Annie said. “Since that time, we’d been patching a little bit here and there.”
Annie recounted every bit of the help that had been provided to them, which she said all has been a blessing.
She recounted how the fire department brought clothing for the children soon after the fire, as well as the churches helping rebuild their mobile home so they could return.
Annie said she didn’t expect more.
Yet, on Monday, the Catholic Heart Camp volunteers appeared with brushes in hand to do the interior work on their residence.
“We tried to raise our grandkids and it takes up a lot of time and money, so this is a real blessing,” Annie said. “I couldn’t thank Miss Courtney enough. She really is a wonderful person.”
Overall, Annie said the situation has been overwhelming for them, especially with Ferdinand at 64 years old and herself at 74.
“There’s so much going on,” she said. “The house is a mess. I can’t find what I’m looking for.”
But Annie quickly added it’s a mess she would gladly clean up, although the volunteers have already told her they’re handling it.
“I still thank God we had a place to stay and we didn’t have to stay with anyone else for a long a time,” she said. “We didn’t lose the place. It was salvaged. It’s a blessing.”
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