Soon after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, damaging more than 200,000 homes and displacing more than one million people in Louisiana alone, Community Renewal International joined forces with The Fuller Center for Housing to help families who had evacuated to the Shreveport area.
A partnership was formed that is now helping residents in other cities as well. The Fuller Center builds houses; CRI builds community. Together, we are “Building on Higher Ground” to help those who lack the resources and the relationships that could make home ownership possible on their own.
The vision goes beyond building houses for a few. We are building hope for many. Shreveport’s Allendale neighborhood – an area of decaying houses, high crime and little income – was chosen for the launch of the “Higher Ground” initiative. With hundreds of volunteers coming from throughout the nation, this once forgotten neighborhood is now a place of new hope and new beginnings that is receiving worldwide attention.
A garden grows where trash and bottles once filled a vacant lot. Children gather on a playground built by a local service club. Residents who were once too frightened to come out of their houses now laugh and eat together at neighborhood block parties.
“Many years ago this was one of the worst communities in the city. Homicides, crime, gang activity – you name it and it was here,” said Jewel Mariner, one of two CRI Community Coordinators in Allendale. She lives in a Friendship House that has become an anchor for the neighborhood.
“It’s amazing to see the transformation in people’s lives and in this neighborhood. People used to just call this The Hill. Now it’s New Hope Hill. People in the community now have hope.”
By the start of 2007, little more than one year after work started, 23 new houses had been built in the community. Each one has its own unique features, designs and color schemes. Several of the new homeowners have become CRI Haven House leaders and now reach out to others in the neighborhood.
“I want to be a light on the hill. I care about my community and I want us to come together,” said Dorothy Wiley, who made a new start in Shreveport after she and her family were trapped in the New Orleans Superdome for four days after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home. “You build a neighborhood by being a neighbor to everybody. You develop relationships one person at a time.”
The Higher Ground project was launched by Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity and then later of The Fuller Center for Housing.
“We are here to transform this city. We have the opportunity to make this one of the most beautiful cities in the country,” he said. “It’s so exciting that Community Renewal International and the Friendship Houses are here. You can build houses, but if you don’t build community, it will all fall apart.”