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Area Volunteers Help New Orleans

Freddie Mac volunteers help to rebuild homes devastated by the 2005 hurricanes.

When she was younger, Jamie Loomis Cloud always enjoyed doing volunteer work. But over the course of the last 10 years, life got in the way and Cloud simply found herself too busy to volunteer. So when Cloud, a Vienna resident and legal administrative coordinator at Freddie Mac in McLean, heard that Freddie Mac was offering its employees the chance to volunteer in New Orleans last month, she immediately submitted an application.

"This came up, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to volunteer again," said Cloud, who has worked at Freddie Mac for 15 years.

On Sunday, Oct. 21, 100 Freddie Mac employees headed down to New Orleans to help rebuild and renovate hurricane-damaged homes. The employees went through an application process to be selected for the company-sponsored, weeklong volunteer opportunity. During their stay in New Orleans, the Freddie Mac team worked on many different tasks, including painting, landscaping, scraping, carpentry, re-framing, window glazing, re-flooring, repairing and sealing windows, and even demolition. In partnership with local non-profit "Rebuilding Together New Orleans," employees worked side-by-side to rehabilitate the homes of several low-income elderly Broadmoor residents — Lloyd Lazard, Cornelius and Colestine Edinburgh, and their daughter Sonia St. Cyr, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and owns the home next door to her parents.

The volunteer effort was part of Freddie Mac and the Freddie Mac Foundation’s recent $5 million recommitment to New Orleans, which is aimed at renovating housing and providing resident services for many low-income to moderate-income families who are still trying to rebuild their lives following the 2005 hurricanes. Following the hurricanes, Freddie Mac and the Freddie Mac Foundation donated more than $16 million in humanitarian assistance, with special emphasis on finding temporary or permanent housing for displaced families — including foster families. The company also provided mortgage payment and other relief to affected homeowners as well as made a $1 billion investment in state and local mortgage revenue bonds, funding housing for as many as 10,000 families.

"We announced this earlier in the year that we were going to do this," said Shawn Flaherty, director of public relations at Freddie Mac. "We’ve had people down there for a variety of different purposes, but this was the first real big volunteer activity. We vested $16 million, and just committed another $5 million."

CLOUD had been to New Orleans three times before, but her last visit was almost exactly 26 years ago, during Halloween weekend in 1981. Cloud said that she did not really get a taste of the degree of impact Hurricane Katrina had on certain communities until she and her fellow co-workers visited the Broadmoor area and took a tour of the lower 9th Ward.

"We were taken to our hotel on Canal Street and there was a combination of things that had been revitalized, and things that hadn’t had any work done on them, but in Broadmoor and other areas, and our tour of the lower 9th ward, that’s when you really saw the devastation," said Cloud. "I think the thing that provided the most powerful punches were the number of houses that had the ‘X’ sign spray painted on them, which indicated that when the rescue team came, they had not found people alive. There were hundreds and hundreds of ‘X’s’ on those homes."

Doug Been, manager of Freddie Mac’s design studios, also went to New Orleans as a volunteer in October — and like Cloud, Been was also struck by the number of "X" marks on the homes in the lower 9th Ward.

"It was surprisingly unreconstructed, and during our tour of the lower 9th Ward, it was just amazing to see how broad the impact was," said Been, an Alexandria resident who has worked at Freddie Mac for 20 years. "The whole 9th Ward was just washed out, and it’s almost like a vacant lot now — it appeared to be kind of a death blow to it. Whole neighborhoods were just completely devastated, and knowing the ‘X’s’ and certain numbers represented victims or fatalities — it was pretty sobering."

LIKE CLOUD, Been had visited New Orleans for pleasure several times previously, but this was his first time coming to the city in a volunteer capacity.

"There were several reasons why I wanted to volunteer, but mainly I wanted to do something to help New Orleans recover, and help Katrina victims, and this gave me a great opportunity to do that," said Been. "I have skills that I thought would be helpful down there, and I thought it would be a great team-building effort for Freddie Mac as well."

Been was part of the group of volunteers who worked on rebuilding Lloyd Lazard’s Broadmoor home.

"He was very appreciative," said Been. "It was apparent there was some damage because the house was just old, but there was a lot of water damage as well, so we had one kind of plan of attack and a scope of work, but once we started digging and tearing things up, we found there was more extensive work that was needed. But fortunately, with so many volunteers there, we were able to do everything that was needed."

Been and his crew worked for four days straight on Lazard’s home, and on one of those days, it rained eight inches.

"We were working in and out of the rain all day — it didn’t seem to … dampen our pace," said Been. "Mr. Lazard was very, very gracious, and when we finished he came out and gave a really moving speech about hope, and it was really touching, and he shook every person’s hand — he was a very gentle man."

Cloud was part of a "window team" that focused on scraping down existing paint, glazing the windows, and then placing putty in the seals of the windows to increase insulation.

"The last afternoon I was there I did help one of the Freddie Mac employees to hang a door, and that was a great experience — just kind of learning how a door is placed in a hinge area that doesn’t even exist yet," said Cloud. "Just to have that experience, and seeing the fruits of your labors — that was actually a superb experience."

CLOUD AND her group worked on the Broadmoor home of Cornelius and Colestine Edinburgh, and Cloud said Cornelius Edinburgh would hang around and observe the Freddie Mac volunteers all day long.

"Mr. Edinburgh was pretty much on the site the whole time, surveying the work, and he had a broad smile on his face because he was so pleased with the work that people were doing on the home," said Cloud.

In addition, Cloud said Edinburgh’s daughter Sonia St. Cyr would come out of her FEMA trailer everyday and chat with the volunteers while they worked.

"She was in a wheelchair, but she always got out of the FEMA trailer that she had been living in for the past two years along with her parents, and she just got out of there and was talking to everybody," said Cloud. "It was wonderful because they spurred you on to work harder."

Doug Been also had the chance to meet Sonia St. Cyr.

"She was out there every morning with her blanket, cheering everyone on," said Been.

For Been, the experience of volunteering in New Orleans far exceeded his expectations.

"It was a very rewarding experience," said Been, adding that he also got to know many of his co-workers a lot better. "I made some really good friends — some people that may have been passing acquaintances in the hall before, I ended up really bonding with them."

Been is already investigating the possibility of sending another Freddie Mac volunteer team down to New Orleans to finish the dry-walling in the homes where they worked.

Cloud said she would also go back down to volunteer in New Orleans "in a heartbeat."

"Just to be able to further Freddie Mac’s mission in ‘making home possible’ is what was so glorious about this experience because that’s exactly what we were doing," said Cloud.