13th Annual Habitat for Humanity Event

 Annual New Orleans Habitat Community Service Project Planned for Day After the New Orleans PDT

By AGA Past National President Jeff Hart, CGFM, CFE

Our 13th annual Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans will be 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Thursday July 25th, the day after the PDT ends. I hope you can join Roxy and me for the 14th time in 13 years that we work to build houses and work inside the Habitat ReStore to support victims of Hurricane Katrina.

This year’s project is jointly sponsored by the New Orleans, Denver, and Washington, D.C. chapters who will be paying the cost of transportation to and from the work site as well as lunch for all participants. Please contact me at jeffshart@comcast.net or 303-907-4664 to register or for more information.

Special thanks to Past National Presidents Virginia Robinson, CGFM, CPA, and Evelyn Brown, CGFM-Retired, for being the first to register for this year’s event, and for joining us for 13 of our 14 Habitat community service projects. Many thanks also to Doreen Shute, Past AGA Senior VP, who will also join us as she has for many of our past projects.

New Orleanians Continue to be Grateful

The people of New Orleans continue to be very grateful for our help. While we’ve seen amazing progress in the city, we can’t forget that Katrina resulted in 1,833 deaths and caused $160 billion in damage (in 2017 dollars). In addition, about 130,000 people that lived in the city before Katrina have yet to return (current population 369,000, down from about 500,000). The people of New Orleans will need help for some time to come as many residents have yet to return home, primarily due to a lack of affordable housing, after the costliest U.S. hurricane ever.

Some of you may also remember that the National Finance Center building in New Orleans, where many AGA members work, was “totaled” 2 years ago by a tornado. Their building still cannot be occupied and many NFC staff are working in temporary modular buildings and/or from home.

AGA Community Service Around the Country

Certainly, other cities and towns around our country have suffered natural disasters in recent years including Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma that devastated Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the Gulf Coast just last year. In 2013 and 2014, we also organized week-long Habitat community service events in New Jersey for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

From 2009-2018 we also worked with our local AGA chapters in organizing a one-day community service project the day after the PDT ended in their cities, most recently in Orlando in 2018.

Obviously, no one person or group can do it all. But everything that each person and each group, like AGA, contributes does touch individual lives and makes a difference. That’s all we can hope for. That, and the fact we might inspire others to continue to plan and participate in community service projects in their own communities as we have done in New Orleans, New Jersey, and the day after the national PDT ended in 8 of our PDT cities in recent years.

Background (for those that want to know)

As some of you may recall, the theme of my AGA presidency was “Excited to Serve”, and I meant that in many respects. Beyond the specific benefit to the recipients of these community service projects, my goal with the annual project in New Orleans, and the annual projects we’ve planned on the day after each of the recent PDTs, has been to emphasize the importance of “serving” in every way—serving in our paying jobs, serving AGA and our profession, and serving our communities.

Especially in this day and age when the reputation of government and those who serve in it are too often under attack, and the public’s trust and confidence in government desperately needs to be rebuilt, I believe our participation in community service projects like this can help tremendously to improve the public’s perception of government and those who serve the public.

Musicians’ Village & the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music

This year we also hope to take time to visit and tour the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music and the Musicians Village in the Upper 9th Ward where we have done most of our work over the last 13 years.

Last year, we were fortunate to meet Michele Brierre, the Executive Director of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, who gave us a personal tour of the facility and introduced us to some of the students and several members of the faculty. We learned that the Center currently serves 235 young students, with 39 instructors, 2 of which live in the village itself. We watched and listened as some of the students were rehearsing for a recital that evening, and preparing to compete in a piano competition the following weekend in Mississippi.

Musicians' Village was designed to construct a community and preserve a culture. Conceived by New Orleans natives, Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, and constructed by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH) as a cornerstone of its post-Katrina rebuilding effort, Musicians' Village provides a home for both the artists who have defined the city's culture and the sounds that have helped to shape the musical vernacular of the world.

The core idea behind Musicians' Village is the establishment of a community for the city's several generations of musicians and other families, many of whom had lived in inadequate housing prior to the catastrophe and remained displaced in its aftermath. Musicians' Village is located in on an eight-acre parcel of land and is comprised of 72 single-family homes, 5 elder-friendly duplexes for the senior members of the community and a toddler park, all built by approximately 70,000 volunteers, donors, sponsors and low-income families.

One of the most important features of Musicians' Village is the inclusion of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named in honor of the New Orleans native and legendary jazz pianist, educator and patriarch of the Marsalis clan. The 17,000 square-foot Center includes a 170-seat performance space with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, recording facilities, computer center and listening library, dance studio, classrooms and teaching facilities for individual and group instruction, and serves as a gathering place for the community.

2019 Project Details

All PDT attendees and their friends and family are invited to participate in this one-day Habitat project on Thursday July 25th, the day after the 2019 PDT ends. We room for up to 10 volunteers to work inside the Habitat ReStore at 2900 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans, LA 70122, which sells new and used building materials and home furnishings. All profits from the Habitat ReStore are used to help Habitat build more houses in the New Orleans area. Other volunteers will work on building a house (exact location won’t be known until a few days in advance of the project), and no prior experience whatsoever is necessary.

I hope you can join us. Please contact me at jeffshart@comcast.net or 303-907-4664 to register or for more information. Space is limited.

There’s plenty of work to be done advancing government accountability, while also serving our communities and helping to build and maintain pubic trust and confidence in their government. I’m reminded of what the late, great Bill Miller, another AGA Past National President and dear friend who left us recently and all too soon, always liked to say—“If you’re not making a difference, you’re wasting time.” I couldn’t agree more, my friend.

And as I said throughout my AGA presidency, I’m excited to serve—Let’s get excited!