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Man adds signs of hope in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Even the smallest acts of kindness can make a significant difference in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Vernon Worley had a simple idea designed to meet a real need in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. A New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus and current seminary employee, Worley is designing and installing temporary, cardboard street signs throughout the neighborhood during his free time. Not only do the signs help recovery volunteers find their way, they also are providing hope in the Upper Ninth Ward.

“I can’t take the credit for [the idea], God put a burden on my heart that we needed street signs,” Worley said. “God showed me what to do.”

With thousands of college students coming to the city for spring break mission trips in March, Worley’s labor couldn’t have come at a better time. The signs are a welcome sight as groups try to reach their worksites.

Over a year ago, Worley realized the magnitude of the problem. He and his wife, Michelle, were visiting sites throughout the area to help with a church research study conducted by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at NOBTS.

“Everywhere we went there were street signs down. It just hindered the work,” Worley said. To complete their portion of the research, the couple purchased a global positioning device.

Worley also encountered the problem near Habitat for Humanity’s Baptist Crossroads Project in the Upper Ninth Ward, where he has volunteered on most weekends and vacation days during the past eight months.

The Habitat staff members often gave directions to volunteer groups using landmarks because so many signs were down in the area. Groups would easily get lost or arrive late at the worksite.

In late February, Worley developed an intense burden about the lack of signs in the Upper Ninth Ward. But before he could make signs, Worley had to determine which streets needed signs.

With a New Orleans city map in hand, Worley visited 166 intersections in the Upper Ninth Ward. If the intersection had no signs, Worley marked streets without signs on the map. He used a check mark to indicate intersections without missing signs.

“I found that less than half [of the intersections] had both signs,” Worley said. “Of the intersections that were missing street signs, one third had one street sign and the other two thirds had nothing at all … so [it is] definitely a need.”

After completing his research, Worley began fashioning make-shift signs with cardboard and a laser printer. He prints street names on three-inch-wide strips of cardboard. To protect the paper from the elements, Worley wraps each sign with clear packing tape.

Worley took on the task one street at a time, beginning with North Roman, which passes the site of the Baptist Crossroads Project. He often goes out around 6:30 a.m. to install the signs.

Wearing an orange reflective vest and carrying a small ladder in his truck, Worley tacks the signs to telephone poles at intersections as needed. Some days he returns to the Upper Ninth Ward during his lunch break to continue the work. So far Worley has installed more than 100 temporary signs.

The signs are small, but effective and many Ninth Ward residents have noticed his work.

“People walking by say, ‘Oh! Street signs,'” Worley said. “One man said, ‘I haven’t seen that street sign in a long time.'”

One morning while Worley nailed up a sign along Desire Street, he encountered a boy and his mother waiting at a bus stop. No words were exchanged, but Worley and the boy traded smiles. Another resident was so excited that he offered to help Worley get the signs at his intersection just right. Moments like these make the project worthwhile, he said.

“I hope it’s encouraging to the residents around, not only useful for those of us who need [the signs],” Worley said.

As the city continues the slow going, painstaking process of permanently replacing missing street signs, Worley patiently goes about his work. He realizes that the task is massive.

“We could keep doing this for the whole city,” he said.