St. Bernard Project

Rebuilding the Homes and Lives of Katrina Survivors

Cherlin Hayes

Cherlin Hayes, born and raised in the Crescent City, knows no other home than New Orleans. Before Katrina hit, Cherlin was a cafeteria worker for 13 years. She earned just enough to live a modest life in her New Orleans home.

Once she heard that the storm was coming, her father gathered up Cherlin, her daughter and a few personal items and left the city as fast as they could.  They fled to Florida and were not able to do anything but wait to see when it was safe to come home and survey the damage. They had no way of knowing that the damage would be so extensive.

The day the family began packing to come back to New Orleans was the day that the Levys broke.  While they were expecting minimal wind damage, the devastation that greeted them on the television was shocking.  What was usually a bustling city was now desolate, deserted and under water.

“You used to be able to sit outside and watch everything and everybody.  After, there wasn’t a person in sight.  There was nobody.  Not a child, not even a dog or a cat.  Everyone was gone.”

Her son offered her a place to stay with him in California.  He told her; she didn’t have anything left in New Orleans and there was nothing for her down there. He wanted her to come and live in a stable place.  She agreed, but only if her son bought her a round trip ticket. She knew in her heart that she would come back.  She stayed there for a few months, but despite her children’s’ wishes, she came back to New Orleans with a fighting attitude.  She lived with her dad in a FEMA trailer outside her home, hoping someone someday would be able and willing to help her.

Since Katrina, Cherlin suffered a stroke in her FEMA trailer.  She returned back to work in New Orleans and one night after falling asleep, she woke up and was suddenly unable to walk and had no control over her body.  While she made a very good recovery, she has still lost some mobility in her left leg and it will never fully be the same.

Her sister told Cherlin about St. Bernard Project, and since then she considers SBP volunteers a “Godsend”.

“Words cannot describe how much I appreciate them.  It is such a blessing to have my house but there are hundreds of people who are still waiting with nowhere to go, sick from the storm or died during it.  It was devastating.  You learn to appreciate the little things in life that you took for granted.  The volunteers are the sweetest people I have ever met with such big hearts.  They are my Godsend.”

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