The Rebuilding Hope In New Orleans (RHINO) ministry was conceived in September 2005, three weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and floodwaters ravaged the city of New Orleans. Senior Pastor
Don Frampton and then associate pastor Paul Seelman, along with several dedicated lay people, knew God had a special calling for St Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church (SCAPC) in the recovery of New Orleans.
The first RHINO group of volunteers converted the church’s general education building (known as the Land Building) into a dormitory for future volunteers and helped staff a food and clothing bank that operated out of the narthex. Weekly groups of volunteers started coming regularly and for nearly two years, they gutted flooded homes while helping to comfort devastated homeowners.
In its next stages of development, working with Habitat for Humanity and other churches and public service organizations, RHINO and SCAPC members built the first half-dozen homes in Musicians’ Village, in the city’s upper Ninth ward. By 2008, SCAPC and Habitat had staked out their own project in a neglected neighborhood several miles upriver from Musicians’ Village. Operation Ferry Place took shape over the next two year and culminated with the completion of 14 Habitat for Humanity homes (seven financed by SCAPC and RHINO churches) built on this little street named Ferry Place. Because of this successful partnership, SCAPC’s RHINO ministry has continued to work with Habitat for Humanity, building another eight homes near Ferry Place and others in Central City and the Seventh ward.
When Hurricane Isaac flooded suburban and rural areas outside the new regional flood protection system, seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, we had an “opportunity” to return to our roots when RHINO volunteers and St. Charles members quickly began the task of gutting 30 ruined homes and helping homeowners face the task of salvaging personal treasures.
Since Hurricane Katrina, RHINO ministry volunteers (both visitors and locals) have now built a total of 28 Habitat homes, assisted on many others, gutted hundreds, and helped rebuild dozens. More than 5,500 people have given of their time, treasure, and varying degrees of talent to rebuild hope through this ministry. They have worked beside homeowners and owners-to-be, worshipped with them, entertained their children, and sent them housewarming gifts. Some RHINOs have made ten or more trips to New Orleans and taken home with them a new sense of purpose, a new commitment to their faith, and memories that will inspire them for years to come.