Entergy Helps Rebuild New Orleans

September 1, 2009

This past weekend many people turned their attention to the Gulf Coast, where recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina still take place daily.

While signs of progress are everywhere, according to one Associated Press article, only about 75% of the pre-Katrina population has returned to New Orleans, the city that was 80% underwater at this time four years ago. In the immensely-affected, mostly low-income Lower 9th Ward, less than 20% of the pre-Katrina population has returned.

One New Orleans-based company is still helping out with community renewal and recovery. On Friday, I spoke with Patty Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility for Entergy Corporation.

Housing

Thousands of local families have not yet returned to New Orleans, at least partially because, for many residents, huge gaps exist between the actual costs of rebuilding their homes and the funds received from federal/state assistance and/or insurance settlements. Entergy has partnered with two nonprofit organizations to provide financial help to families wanting to return.  

The first group, the St. Bernard Project (named after St. Bernard Parish), works with individual families who need assistance rebuilding their homes. According to Riddlebarger, $15,000 worth of building materials and volunteer labor allow the St. Bernard Project to bring a family home within a 12 to 15-week timeframe.

This past weekend, more than 30 Entergy employees joined St. Bernard Parish officials to rebuild a home in Gentilly for Richonda Bridges, a cancer survivor and single mother of two.  In addition to suffering the loss of her home to Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Bridges has been battling cancer, undergoing a mastectomy and chemotherapy while she was evacuated from New Orleans.  After Ms. Bridges returned to New Orleans, she began rebuilding her home, only to suffer another setback at the hands of a fraudulent contractor.  

Entergy also has granted $500,000 to the Project to help rebuild homes in both St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes. Overall, the St. Bernard project has helped 230 families rebuild and return to their homes.  But many more are still waiting.    

Volunteers of America is another organization with which Entergy has partnered to help rebuild the community.  Since Katrina, rent prices in the New Orleans area have soared 40%, making it difficult for fixed-income families to deal with housing.

Volunteers of America is providing affordable housing for low-income senior citizens and families through both new construction and renovating existing single and multi-family housing units.

A $200,000 grant given by Entergy in 2008 has enabled Volunteers of America staff to leverage approximately $35 million in public and private financing to create housing to serve 350 families and seniors in the New Orleans area.

Education and Talent

A success story in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina has been the dramatic improvements in the local public schools and an influx of innovation and funding  that has created transformational change in the city’s public school system.

Entergy Corporation is one of the largest local funders of Teach for America (TFA), an organization with a proven model of raising achievement standards in historically underperforming schools. Students in Teach for America classrooms gain, on average, 18 months of educational progress over the course of one academic year. This kind of sustained growth, year-after-year, will go a long way toward closing the academic achievement gap for at-risk inner city schools.

Entergy’s contribution of $350,000 to Teach for America has helped put more than 500 TFA corps members in the New Orleans area, reaching 200,000 students in 140 schools. Other companies and foundations have also joined in with support. (See a recent ChamberPost piece on school revitalization.)

Additionally, small business owners and entrepreneurs have been widely lauded for their unique ability to revitalize the city through innovation and the creation of jobs and a viable knowledge sector.

One of the entrepreneurial hubs that has sprouted in New Orleans since the hurricane is the Entergy Innovation Center, opened one month ago and located in the heart of the Upper 9th Ward. Here, small business owners and entrepreneurs are able to use, at low-cost, office equipment such as fax machines, phones, and computers and to leverage training workshops on topics such as marketing, business plans, and funding proposals.

Full recovery from Katrina could take a decade or more, but corporate partners such as Entergy are helping the area to rebuild better and smarter.