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Operation Southern Comfort still going strong

Volunteers from Operation Southern Comfort build a house in St. Bernard Parish, La. The Liverpool-based organization has made 35 trips to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; founder Norm Andrzejewski is now organizing trip number 36.

Volunteers from Operation Southern Comfort build a house in St. Bernard Parish, La. The Liverpool-based organization has made 35 trips to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; founder Norm Andrzejewski is now organizing trip number 36.

— “It looks pretty good there,” he said.

St. Bernard Parish is where it all began for OSC back in the winter after Katrina hit, when Andrzejewski took a group of about 15 people down to Plaquemines Parish and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana. Andrzejewski, a Tulane graduate who’d spent time on the Gulf Coast in the 1960s, made the trip in response to a conversation with a friend, Donlene Butler, whose Belle Chasse, La., neighborhood had seen significant damage. After spending five days cleaning up, the group headed home determined to return.

Since then, OSC has made a total of 35 trips to the Gulf Coast. Most have headed back to Louisiana, though two have gone to Gulfport, Miss. All trips are funded by traveler contributions; each volunteer is asked to pay $280 for their own expenses, room and board. Local contributions pay for construction materials.

Since 2006, 1,850 people have taken part in OSC trips, working on more than 300 projects. Volunteers have worked on personal homes, churches; community facilities, such as the Battered Women’s Shelter in Chalmette; and public parks. OSC participants are also focusing on planting trees in the area in an effort to lessen the impact of any future storms; with no forest shield in southeast Louisiana, there is little to protect the area from hurricane winds and water. With the assistance and direction of local tree experts, OSC volunteers have cultured nearly 6,000 ecologically valuable bald cypress and live oak seedlings.

And OSC has started focusing closer to home, as well. Operation Northern Comfort kicked off local activities during Acts of Kindness Weekend (Sept. 10 and 11), working with Women Transcending Boundaries.

“We’re going to be starting a partnership with Christopher Communities, which owns eight houses on Catherine Street in the city,” Andrzejewski said. “We’ll be sprucing those up and planting a flower garden. We’ll also be working on sprucing up Chadwick House, which is a former convent on Valley Drive. We’re going to make it look very different than it does.”

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