Arriving a day early in order to pitch-in and help homeowners in the host city of the International Roofing Expo has become a labor of love for volunteers from different roofing markets across the country.

This year in New Orleans was no exception as dozens of roofing contractors, consultants and other industry professionals participated in the ninth annual IRE Community Service Day Monday morning on the eve of the show.

The primary sponsor for the event was again Sika Sarnafil, which has been the chief sponsor since IRE Community Service Day’s inception. Additional contributors this year included OMG, Carlisle, CentiMark, ICP Adhesives & Sealants, Inc., CertainTeed, Roofing Solutions and Damato Enterprises.

The group of more than 60 IRE attendees of all ages boarded a bus and made the 25-minute trek east of downtown where they split up into smaller teams at three different worksites referred by Rebuilding Together New Orleans, a non-profit, volunteer-based program that repairs and rehabilitates homes and non-profit community facilities.

The first was in the city’s 7th Ward to the home of Betty Johnson. The 69-year-old retired state employee has lived there since her parents moved with her two younger siblings in the early 1960s. After their parents died, Johnson and her siblings inherited the two story colonial home, and all of its structural challenges.

Much like the homes throughout the 7th Ward, Johnson’s house sustained significant damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was fully renovated — except for the roof, which was too costly. Its condition only deteriorated further over the years, and has led to leaks and huge holes in certain sections of the ceiling.

Johnson has lived alone for years since her brother died, and is no longer able to keep up with regular maintenance physically nor financially on her fixed income.

Volunteers painted, added handrails to the porch and helped with landscaping. A new roof will be installed as part of the project.

The weatherization repairs will help her remain financially independent on her limited income of social security and retirement pension. She’ll also be able to stay worry free as she spends time with a daughter she adores, and the needy children she helps as a volunteer.

Johnson volunteers with the Kiwanis Club, sewing dolls to send to sick kids in the local hospitals. She loves sewing and often teaches sewing classes to young girls at her church. “I have this gift and now that I’m retired I can share it with others who want to learn,” she said.

Without the help of IRE volunteers she said she wouldn’t be able to continue calling it home.

“I’ve lived here all my life and it’s such a family house. My dad worked so hard to get this house and I want to be able to keep it up,” she said. 

Another group of IRE volunteers visited the Gentilly neighborhood, which is known as a predominantly middle class and racially diverse section of the city. The area was also ravaged by Katrina’s intense winds and powerful rainfall, but the population has slowly returned, including long-time residents Charles and Cynthia Heisser. The couple, ages 85 and 83 respectively, were born and raised in New Orleans and moved into their single-story home in 1974. That made settling down in another section of the city as the rebuilding process started very difficult, and they ultimately said that they couldn’t bear to part ways with a home where they raised five children.

Major repairs were necessary for them to reclaim the home once the floodwaters subsided. The structure was lifted, the foundation repaired, and the exterior was replaced and reframed. However, unscrupulous contractors, costly repairs, and an unfair distribution of rebuilding funds left the Heissers short of the finish line.

They used what financial savings they had to convert at 12-ft.x24-ft. garage behind their home into a living space while their original house sat unfinished. The couple demonstrates a tremendous amount of commitment and determination to live comfortably in their house, but every day they look at the house hoping to finally move back in.

“This is a miracle for us,” Cynthia said as she watched strangers install sheet rock panels in what will be her future kitchen. “We didn’t want to leave the property and this really means the world to me. I can’t believe it and it feels like I’m in a dream.”

Volunteers assisted the Heissers with the installation of insulation and drywall, and also made repairs to the rear exterior siding and vapor barrier.

Other volunteers visited a third home nearby and helped demolish an existing fence, water seal the new fence and assist with landscaping and clean up.

“We began this tradition at the 2010 International Roofing Expo to make a positive difference in the lives of those still suffering the effects of Hurricane Katrina,” said event organizer Brandi McElhaney. “Nine years later, we are still going strong and helping families in multiple cities.”