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Americorps-related Project Named Top Ten CNN Hero

Thursday, October 30, 2008   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Paige Robertson
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St. Bernard Project Named Top Ten CNN Hero


Volunteer and AmeriCorps-fueled home rebuilding project competing for $100,000 prize


Washington D.C. – Liz McCartney, co-founder of a Louisiana nonprofit that relies on volunteers and AmeriCorps members to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, has been selected as one of 10 finalists in the second annual “CNN Heroes” program.

The St. Bernard Project, formed two years ago by McCartney and Zack Rosenburg, has mobilized more than 9,000 volunteers to renovate and reconstruct 151 homes for residents of St. Bernard Parish, an area just outside New Orleans that once was home to 67,000 people that suffered massive damage from Katrina.

"CNN Heroes" showcases examples of ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary deeds.  The top ten finalists were selected from more than 4,000 nominations, and they received a $25,000 prize, which McCartney is donating back to the project. 

CNN will announce its “Hero of the Year” during a Thanksgiving night broadcast hosted by AC 360 anchor Anderson Cooper.  The Hero of the Year, who will receive a $100,000 prize, will be selected by public voting taking place online through November 20.

Asked about the award, McCartney said she was shocked and honored, and was quick to point out the volunteers, community partners, and local residents that have made the project a success.  “I am surrounded by the people who are the real heroes, the people of St. Bernard who have put up with so many challenges and are still fighting for their community.  The problems are big but the solutions are readily available.  This award is great for the community because it will put St. Bernard and the New Orleans area in the national spotlight and show that we are making progress but still need volunteers,” McCartney said.

McCartney is grateful for the volunteers and faith-based groups that have come from across the country, and cited the critical role of the national service program AmeriCorps in construction work and managing volunteers.   In the past two years, 236 AmeriCorps NCCCmembers have given 77,000 hours of service to the project.  Since last January the project has had 23 AmeriCorps members supported by an AmeriCorps State grant from the Louisiana Serve Commission, and 3 AmeriCorps VISTAshave built organizational capacity through fundraising and volunteer recruitment.

AmeriCorps members serving with the St. Bernard Project have supervised and worked side-by-side with volunteers to rebuild 120 families' homes; trained and managed more than 8,000 volunteers; ordered and delivered supplies and tools to 120 families' homes; provided more than $1 million worth of in kind volunteer supervision and labor; and helped raise more than $2 million in funds. 

“Our relationship with AmeriCorps has been a very powerful and effective force for the community,” said McCartney.   “The progress we’ve made is largely as a result of AmeriCorps – especially their ability to manage other volunteers.  What I think is so incredible is not just the impact AmeriCorps has on building homes but the other things we don’t measure – the impact on other volunteers and morale and the spirit of people when they come down to help.”

“The St. Bernard Project assisted the people of this parish when they were in the darkest hours after Katrina,” said Jules Hampton, Project Director of NCCC Gulf Coast Operations, who reached out to McCartney and Rosenburg to offer NCCC’s assistance.  “As a citizen of Louisiana having seen the Parish before the devastation of Katrina, it is a tremendous act of selflessness for these two young people to have made such a profound commitment based solely on their passion for helping others.  This spotlight shows the power of individuals to make a difference and the ongoing need for volunteers to help communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and more recently Gustav and Ike.”

The St. Bernard Project got its start when McCartney and Rosenburg went to volunteer in New Orleans in February 2006.  Shocked by the widespread destruction they saw, they quit their professional jobs in Washington D.C. and moved to St. Bernard Parish. 

While neither had construction experience, both felt they could use their organizational and professional skills to help with the rebuilding effort. They learned the basics of construction from local residents, and began rebuilding homes for senior citizens, disabled residents, and families with children under 18 who do not have the funds to rebuild their homes. 

The project works with families to do reconstruction work that’s needed to allow them to move back in.  This varies from house to house but typically includes mold remediation, rewiring, plumbing, insulation, sheetrock, cabinetry, installing appliances and cabinets, and other tasks.  It takes an average of 12 weeks and $12,000 to rebuild a home, and the project is on track to having 175 families move in by the end of the year.  The project is branching out beyond housing – they are launching a wellness and mental health clinic for parish residents in partnership with Louisiana State University.

If they win the online voting competition, McCartney and Rosenburg have pledged to give the $100,000 prize back to the project.  They plan to keep working until all the homes in St. Bernard Parish are rebuilt.   "We're here until we work ourselves out of a job," McCartney told CNN. 

For CNN’s story about the St. Bernard Project and an interview with McCartney, visit

AmeriCorps support for the St. Bernard Project is part of a much larger effort by the program and its parent agency the Corporation for National and Community Service to help families and communities devastated by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes recover and rebuild.  In the past three years, more than 105,000 participants in AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America have provided 5.4 million hours of service and mobilized or supervised more than 405,000 volunteers in Katrina response efforts.  For more information, visit

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. Each year, the Corporation engages four million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs. For more information, visit

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