Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

One Brick helps Katrina victims

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The task of cleaning up after a major natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina can seem overwhelming, says Fort Washington resident Kenneth Crenshaw. Fortunately, he’s found a small way to make a contribution through an organization called One Brick.

The name One Brick gives a mental picture of ‘‘each person grabbing a brick and putting it on a stack,” said Crenshaw, who traveled with the organization to New Orleans earlier this month to assist in rehabilitating homes damaged by the 2005 hurricane.

‘‘I’ve been hesitant to send money because I’d heard of a lot of scams. This way I can put my hands to it and make a contribution to a specific home.”

Crenshaw heard about the organization while listening to National Public Radio. Although the New Orleans trip was his first experience with One Brick, he’s familiar with repairing homes for needy people. He’s put a roof on a house with Christmas in April (now known as Rebuilding Together) and worked with drywall and telephone wires for Habitat for Humanity.

One Brick started in San Francisco in 2001, said Cheryl Miller, head of the Washington, D.C., chapter. The founders, who were out of work due to the bust, were looking for ways to volunteer. The organization spread to New York, Chicago and then, in 2006, to the District, she said.

Although One Brick welcomes all kinds of volunteers, the group typically attracts young, Internet-savvy professionals who are looking for ways to help the community and make friends. Volunteers often work for three to four hours on a project, then go out for a meal afterward.

Volunteers in this area have signed up to prepare food for the homeless at D.C. Kitchen, assist during Family Day at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum or remove invasive plants for the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase.

‘‘We try to keep the activities well-rounded,” Miller said. ‘‘Volunteers sign up quickly to help at the D.C. Kitchen. However, they tend to not like activities that start early in the morning, such as charity races.”

For the service project in New Orleans, volunteers from the District, Chicago, New York and San Francisco spent a week helping with reconstruction projects in St. Bernard Parish, located south of New Orleans, Miller said.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, the area was flooded and affected by an oil spill from a nearby refinery, Miller said.

‘‘A lot of people haven’t returned,” she said.

The November trip was the third time One Brick volunteers worked together on a national level to help Katrina victims, according to the organization.

During a previous trip, One Brick volunteers worked with Habitat for Humanity workers, who are building new homes in New Orleans, Miller said. Volunteers for another organization, the St. Bernard Project, gut homes and put up drywall. AmeriCorps volunteers who are trained in construction also are on site, she said.

Habitat for Humanity has turned an old school into a camp, Miller said, so for $100 a week, volunteers have a place to sleep and receive three meals each day. During their time in the camp, volunteers can spend time eating and talking with New Orleans residents.

‘‘The homeowners are on site in FEMA trailers,” she said.

One Brick volunteers don’t need experience to help repair a home. During a previous trip, Miller spent a week hammering nails.

‘‘We must have put six nails in every spot,” she said. ‘‘We hammered the heck out of that house.”

One Brick

How it makes a difference: By creating a friendly, social atmosphere, this service organization rounds up volunteer labor to support other nonprofits. Visit