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Habitat for Humanity Trip - Tuesday, January 9
Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis Visit the Habitat Site
Musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis shot a TV public service announcement (PSA) on the site today. In the picture above, the director and the camera person are on the left, Marsalis is standing next to them and Connick is facing the cameras. On the right are five musicians who live in Musicians' Village. The PSA is being made to encourage people to apply for a Habitat home. The Habitat project wants to complete 250 homes this year, about 50 more in Musicians' Village, and because people don't think they will qualify, they are reluctant to start the paperwork. After the shooting, Connick and Marsalis toured some of the construction sites and talked to the volunteer construction workers.
Connick and Marsalis, both native New Orleanians, came up with the idea of the Musicians' Village in December, 2005, and it quickly escalated. This new neighborhood is being built around a music center where musicians can teach and perform. Connick and Marsalis teamed up with Habitat for Humanity International and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity to create the village for New Orleans musicians and others who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.
Here are some of the things Connick has said about New Orleans and the Habitat project: "Everything that I have professionally, and so much of what I have personally, is because of this great, fair city ... And to see it being drowned like this is almost unbearable. New Orleans is my essence, my soul, my muse, and I can only dream that one day she will recapture her glory. I will do everything within my power to make that happen and to help in any way I can to ease the suffering of my city, my people!"
Construction Sites Away from Musicians' Village
The UMD group below were working at a site several miles from Musician's Village. Our drive brought us through some of the worst of the destruction. We could tell from the National Guard markings on the sides of the houses that dozens of people had been stranded in this area for many days after the hurricane and flood.
Back at the houses in Musicians' Village.
Smith's evacuation journey took her and Kiara to a hotel in Dallas, Texas, to Captain Cal's Lakeside Lodge in Pottsboro, Texas, and back to a FEMA apartment in Dallas. For a year she traveled back and forth to New Orleans, singing in clubs up to 12 times a month. "I was still making money, even though the trips cost me $200 at a time," she said. Smith wanted to get back to New Orleans. She was surfing the internet, looking for grants and programs that might help, when she saw the application for Musicians' Village. She was accepted and began the process to become a Habitat owner, but she couldn't find housing in the New Orleans area. Finally, a friend offered her a house-sitting opportunity and Smith moved back. "God protects babies and fools," Smith said. "I'm not sure which category I'm in, but I feel protected." Smith's house and eight others are just about ready for the next wave of homeowners to move in. All they are waiting for is the utilities to be hooked up. "In the meantime, my daughter and I are staying with friends," Smith said. "I'm sleeping on a couch."
Rent is high in New Orleans because there is such a shortage of housing. Over 65,000 homes were destroyed in the Ninth Ward alone and a one bedroom apartment in New Orleans is $900 a month. "My new home gives me a lot for the money. For about $500 a month, my daughter, my mother and I can live in a gorgeous, three-bedroom house."
Part of the plan for Musicians' Village is to build a community center, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named after the jazz great. The center, complete with a performance space, is dedicated to the education and development of homeowners and others who will live nearby. About half of the 81 homes will be owned by musicians and the other half will be owned by community members. "It's just so important that we keep New Orleans jazz musicians in the city," Smith said. "We need to bring the city back."
UMD has joined over 20,000 Habitat volunteers at the Musicians' Village. Millions in donations have come in from companies and civic groups. Musicians' Village is preserving music, a part of New Orleans that might have been damaged or even lost forever without this effort. And music, food, and culture are what gives New Orleans its unique flavor.
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