Laura Paul claims to be a poor planner. For instance, she never planned to visit the Lower Ninth Ward, but there she is, more than a decade later, completely entrenched in helping rebuild the community. Despite a planning disability, the nonprofit she runs in the Lower Ninth Ward has completely rehabbed 83 Katrina-ravaged homes and renovated or repaired 250.
Laura’s only intention in early 2006 was to take a freewheeling, sightseeing road trip across country. But when she and her Dashund, Miles, drove into New Orleans, she was stunned by the storm damage and mortified by the lack of progress. As a Canadian, she’d assumed the great U.S. of A would have quickly mobilized disaster relief efforts.
“There is no way this kind of neglect would exist in a major American city,” she thought.
The road trip was soon canceled and Laura began volunteering with Emergency Communities, a nonprofit founded by Rick Prose, a Maine boat builder who had arrived with a group of Unitarian Universalists to provide help. For months, Laura slept in a tent a relief site on Judge Perez Drive and served 2,200 meals daily to flood victims.
After emergency feeding, mold remediation and gutting work was done, efforts shifted to more sustainable recovery projects. Rick’s friends from Maine began supervising unskilled but willing volunteers to tackle home rebuilding. In 2007, lowerine.org was founded to provide ongoing assistance to Ninth Ward residents still trying to return home. As a board member, Laura was tapped to replace Rick when he finally decided to go back East three years later.
Volunteers continue to arrive from all over the world to work with lowernine.org in resurrecting the Lower Nine. Laura recruits, houses, orients and throws backyard barbecues for them. Enthusiastic and energetic workers learn a little bit about home construction and a lot about America, including Louisiana’s great music, food and hot, humid weather.
At the bottom line, Laura finds satisfaction trying to “right the wrongs that were done” to residents who lost everything either because they were told flood insurance was unnecessary, or they had insurance, but still didn’t get covered, she says.
Having studied to become a playwright, Laura’s written her own script, living in Holy Cross a couple of blocks from the river with three dogs and her boyfriend/bartender extraordinaire Rickilane Banks. She serves as vice chair of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and captain of Krewe des Fleurs, hosting many creative crafting parties in her living room.
She also keeps her hand in dishing out 150 meals to homeless people on Sundays at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.
“At the end of the day, it’s very little, but it means a lot to a few people,” she says.