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Alleged N. Orleans scandal not tied to Baptist rebuild effort

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–In a city too often known for scandal and financial wrongdoing, Southern Baptists want to be sure no one confuses their ongoing Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope) Rebuild ministry with a city-affiliated agency that has been accused of misappropriating housing funds.

The city agency — New Orleans Affordable Homeownership — also is known as “NOAH.” The agency’s stated purpose is to help elderly and low-income homeowners rebuild their houses that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee breaches. But a report that aired Monday, July 21, by WWL-TV in New Orleans alleged that a large number of jobs the agency claims were completed were never even started.

Southern Baptists working with the Operation NOAH Rebuild ministry are speaking up to distinguish their NOAH from the city’s.

“We have worked hard and we have a great reputation in the community,” said David Maxwell, Operation NOAH Rebuild coordinator. “I would hate for any of the homeowners we helped to hear the news accounts and think they were about us.”

Maxwell was quick to point out that the Southern Baptist Operation NOAH Rebuild has not accepted any city funding. Additionally, volunteers pay their own way to New Orleans and cover their food and lodging costs. All labor is provided to homeowners free of charge.

Maxwell said the alleged scandal “breaks my heart because I know the need that still exists here.”

“My wife and I came here two years ago because we wanted to help the people of New Orleans. I have met so many who have lost $40,000 or $60,000 or even $80,000 to fraudulent contractors. This scandal is just one more in a series people have had to endure,” Maxwell said.

Since early 2006, more than 22,000 Southern Baptist volunteers have helped 1,350 families move back into their homes. This includes gutting 616 homes and completely rebuilding 144 homes. Southern Baptists currently are rebuilding more than 200 homes in the city.

Maxwell said the ministry has been blessed with 500 volunteers a day on site for most of the summer, but now that the summer months are waning, volunteer numbers are dropping off.

“We need more volunteers,” Maxwell said. “Especially those who are skilled electricians, plumbers and sheetrock finishers. We also need teams who can come down with their own team leaders because we are not able to provide daylong oversight at each of the construction sites.”

Those wanting to volunteer in the Operation NOAH Rebuild effort can find more information at www.namb.net/NOAH.
Mike Ebert is publications coordinator for the North American Mission Board.

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  • Mike Ebert