In New Orleans, homes are traditionally passed down from family to family and grandparents, parents, siblings and all in between live in walking distance from one another. This is a unique feature which gives New Orleans neighborhoods their own distinct history and character. This was the life that the Lewis family envisioned for themselves and their home in the Lower Ninth Ward.
If you stop by Ronald Lewis’ home or his museum; he will greet you with an infectious smile and a warm hug. Ronald has a strength that can only come from defending what he loves more than anything else – his home and his family. A Mardi Gras Indian, Ronald runs The House of Dance and Feathers, a museum which pays homage to Mardi Gras and its cultural impact on the city.
The Lower Ninth Ward was a close knit community. We sort of like an island in New Orleans. On this island, with our own way of life and everything and we cherished that,” says Ronald.
Ronald will also tell you how different his life was before Hurricane Katrina. Ronald, his wife Minnie, son Renaldo, and Renaldo’s three daughters (ages 5, 13 and 15) lived together in Ronald’s Lower 9th Ward home. They were the picturesque tight-knit family that characterizes the Lower 9th Ward and the unique fabric of New Orleans. Unwilling to jeopardize their safety, the family evacuated for Katrina, but were eager to return as quickly as possible.
While Ronald and Minnie received Road Home compensation and were able to return and rebuild their home a year after Katrina, Renaldo did not receive any meaningful assistance to restore his pre-Katrina life. Now, from their porch on Tupelo Street, Ronald and Minnie look out onto their block and see empty lots and deserted homes. Only one neighbor has returned, and the barking of a single dog does not compare to how lively their street was before Katrina. With a sad smile and a shake of her head, Minnie remembers the constant dribble of a basketball, children playing and laughing, and neighbors who were sharing the news from their front porches.
Life is now noticeably different for the family. After the storm, Renaldo began renting in New Orleans East while he worked to make owning his own home a reality. His three daughters are temporarily living in Texas with their mother until he can provide stable housing in the city.
Fortunately, Ronald discovered the gutted home next door to his was vacant and eligible for purchase through the Lot Next Door program. Though sad that his neighbor of 30 years would not be returning, Ronald was excited at the prospect that his family could be reunited and his son could build a foundation for his own family. Together, the Lewis family pooled their resources and purchased the home.
Renaldo worked hard to meet the program’s delineation that the home must be completely renovated within a year. His primary motivation, to once again have his daughters living with him, kept his nose to the grindstone. Though he saved stringently, supporting his family from far away and rebuilding a home stretched him too thin. If things continued at their currently pace, the home would not be finished by the city’s deadline. The Lewis family was in danger of losing the home and with it, reuniting their family
St. Bernard Project was able to step in and keep the home in the Lewis‘s hands. Having paid for the majority of the materials and completed some of the work on his own, Renaldo’s home’s largest
requirement is labor, something the St. Bernard Project is perfectly equipped to provide. SBP is urgently trying to raise the remaining funds to get Renaldo and his family into the home as quickly as possible.
By returning Renaldo quickly home, he not only gets to raise his children in a stable environment, but Ronald and Minnie will be close to their grandchildren they had a hand in raising and the once vibrant community will continue to recover.