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Lay Dominicans Hope and Faith in New Orleans

A Beacon of Hope Lights the Road
to Recovery in New Orleans

Linda Pippinger, OPL, stands inside a Lake View house devasted by Hurricane Katrina

Like a mythological phoenix rising from the ashes of desperation and despair, the city of New Orleans is slowly and painfully starting to heal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Seventeen months after the failure of the levees and pumping stations caused the devastation of eighty to eighty-five percent of the entire city, there are still hundreds of square miles of gutted houses and abandoned neighborhoods. Even though there is a trickle of residents who are starting to return, it is estimated that there are roughly 175,000 former inhabitants who have not yet come back. Many evacuated homeowners who still have jobs in the city commute long distances on a daily basis. “They might think about moving back, but when they look at the conditions of their old neighborhoods, they realize that they really do not even know where to begin,” said homeowner John Pippinger. John and his wife Linda, a Lay Dominican and member of St. Dominic Chapter, New Orleans, are members of Beacon of Hope.

Many property owners have simply given up and relocated elsewhere to begin new lives.

Linda Pippenger
Linda Pippinger, OPL, member of Beacons of Hope and New Orleans resident

Established in the months immediately following the devastating storm, The Beacon of Hope Resource Center raises the hopes and quality of life for these desperate families by providing information and resources to help them rebuild. Founded by Lakewood South homeowners Denise and Doug Thornton, flood survivors themselves, Beacon of Hope was chartered to “assist all New Orleans homeowners in rebuilding and restoring their homes and communities.” Today, Beacon of Hope has branched out from the Thorntons’ flood-damaged home to eight satellite locations concentrated within the Lakeview district of New Orleans.

As a non-profit organization entirely dependent on volunteers and donations, Beacon of Hope takes a grassroots approach to rebuilding the city. By improving general neighborhood conditions first, property owners will be encouraged to consider returning and working on their individual properties. The first group of Beacon volunteers to enter an abandoned neighborhood is there to pick up debris, mow lawns, remove dead trees, and improve the general appearance of the area. “It mentally impacts people when they look at their yards and see the tires, storm debris and garbage all cleaned up, and they kind of step back and think to themselves, well maybe, just maybe, I can come back,” said Lori Bird , Co-Administrator of the St. Paul Beacon, during a recent orientation session for high school volunteers. Bird added, “By cleaning up the neighborhood, we are also sending a message to criminals [looters] that — hey, something is going on here, people live here.”

The Beacon volunteers also perform “block surveys” which are assessments of the conditions of individual houses, neighborhood infrastructure (sidewalks, streets, manholes, trees and landscaping, fire hydrants, abandoned vehicles, etc.), street lighting, and the city water and sewer system. The surveys are then passed along to property owners and city officials to give them a starting reference for what needs to be repaired or replaced.

Linda shares her newly renovated home

According to Beacon Satellite Administrator Linda Peppinger, the obstacles facing the returning residents are many. “Toxic flood debris everywhere, no utilities, wind and water damage to building structures, mildew and mold growth and a lack of basic services like mail delivery and telephone,” she said. Peppinger and her husband John, their children and their families were all living within a four-square mile area of the Lakeview district when Katrina hit. Each family member’s home was seriously damaged or destroyed, and Linda and John were forced to cash in their retirement and life savings to purchase another, less severely damaged home and rebuild it. Now the Peppinger family members are living under one roof until the children can re-establish themselves. “No one ever thought that it was going to be this bad. When we left [evacuated], we thought, we’ll be back in a few days and clean up, and everything will be all right,” Peppinger said. So far Linda and John have made no decision as to what they will do with their original home.

Another obstacle to drawing the residents back to the city has been the poor administration and distribution of relief funds and services that would allow the homeowners to repair the damage to their properties. One of the major relief initiatives, dubbed the Louisiana Road Home Program, was developed by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in conjunction with the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the Office of Community Development. The program was designed to allow eligible homeowners up to $150,000 in compensation to cover their losses and help them get back into their homes. Critics are quick to point out that in 2006, the $756 million contract with ICF International of Fairfax, Virginia, to manage the funds produced only about $176 million in revenue and only 177 people out of 99,000 applicants have been awarded grants. The abysmal figure represents a response rate that is only .0079 percent of the total that applied. “It is a complete breakdown of the infrastructure,” John Peppinger said. “The state government is bogged down by bureaucracy and is not distributing the Road Home money, and the city government has taken a wait-and-see attitude about everything else.” Beacon of Hope offers residents assistance in identifying the relief programs that are available to them and information on completing each of the application processes.

Besides offering the initial cleanup and damage assessment services and assistance in obtaining relief aid and grants, The Beacon of Hope Resource Center offers a variety of additional services to recovering communities in New Orleans. These include providing information on how residents can obtain construction licenses and permits, negotiate contracts, and inspect for and remove mold, to actually acting as a communication link between residents and city agencies in restoring services and utilities, such as electricity, mail delivery, telephone, cable, sewage and water, and trash removal. The Resource Center has also developed a referral service for licensed and approved builders, plumbers, electricians, alarm and communication technicians, pool cleaners, landscapers and other skilled professionals.

Volunteers at the Resource Center also provide mental health services for children and adults, assistance for the elderly, free notary public rendering services, pet registration, neighborhood watch resources, rodent and insect control resources, FEMA referral information, and assistance in applying for Increased Cost of Compliance funds (ICC). Among the major supporters of Beacon of Hope are Ray Woolridge (former owner of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team), United Way, Blue Moon Fund, The Woldenberg and Goldring Family foundations, and Catholic Charities.

The long-range strategy for The Beacon of Hope Resource Center is to eventually expand out of the Lakeview district and to bring neighborhoods in other areas of the city back one at a time, in the hope that as the recovered neighborhoods start to normalize, they will reach out to surrounding areas until every community has been helped. The most successful element that has made Beacon of Hope a reality is the winning combination of hard-working local and visiting volunteers, along with a core of dedicated donors. With this winning formula, the Center will undoubtedly keep bringing the citizens of New Orleans back to their neighborhoods, eventually healing their broken city. “Without our volunteers and contributors we would have nothing. They are our silver lining. God bless them for all that they have done for us,” Linda Peppinger concluded.

The Beacon of Hope Resource Center is located at 319 W. Harrison Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70124. Telephone: (504) 872-9873. Web:

Chris Barecki, Communications Office
Dominican Sisters of Adrian


Beacon of Hope Resource Center

Who are the Lay Dominicans?

Different Lives

Word Version

“Toxic flood debris everywhere, no utilities, wind and water damage to building structures, mildew and mold growth and a lack of basic services like mail delivery and telephone."
Linda Pippinger, OPL

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