East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission President Sylvia Scineaux-Richard couldn’t stop smiling on Saturday (May 18) as volunteers gave the Lake Forest Estates sign a spruce up.

“This is fabulous,” she said. “I think to have a corporate company understand the need for communities to be well kept is important. It is such a big help. We took some time to figure out which projects would show the most improvement before and after. It was a way to spread out the work and show how much of a difference can be made.”

That wasn’t the only sign of progress on Saturday morning as nearly 100 volunteers from Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana and Home Depot embarked on a day of service.

Beginning at Lake Forest Elementary, volunteers focused their efforts on the neutral grounds on Wright Road from I-10 service road to Chef Menteur Highway and Lake Forest Boulevard from Reed Boulevard to Bullard Avenue. The areas covered included the neighborhoods of Sherwood Forest, Fauberg, Idlewood, and Lake Forest Estates. The project included work to landscape and beautify Lake Forest Elementary and Sherwood Forest Elementary, as well as clearing a blighted lot adjacent to Sherwood Forest Elementary.

“Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana was approached by the Home Depot Foundation to develop a community project in New Orleans East,” said Jim LeBlanc, President and CEO of Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana. “Our Fresh Food Factor serves this area and these schools, so we knew what needed to be done.”

Lake Forest Charter School Founding CEO Mardele S. Early said the new garden beds and mulch at her school will make a difference in students’ lives.

“It is great for the school and great for the neighborhood,” Early said. “We’ve had a long history with Volunteers of America, so it was a natural partnership. Being community-minded is part of our mission statement so we understand how important giving back to the community is. This lets our students know that the community cares about them and shows how they can give back as well.”

Mixed in with the more than 40 Home Depot volunteers were community members from across the area. Tieacie Penn, a volunteer from Metairie who is a culinary student at Nunez Community College, said this was just another way to give back.

“I’ve volunteered with Volunteers of America before, and I just love giving back like this,” she said while planting flowers at Sherwood Forest Elementary. “This is beautiful. Jesus blessed me with so much, so if I can help out others, I will. This was a perfect opportunity to do that.”

The Home Depot volunteers came from District 132, which includes about 10 stores in Mississippi and Louisiana, said Home Depot site coordinator Angela Des Jardin.
One of those volunteers was Hans Pugh, who works at the Gulfport Home Depot. Pugh served in the Air Force for 20 years and was stationed throughout the world, but he said he couldn’t imagine being anywhere other than Lake Forest Elementary Saturday.

“Partnering with Volunteers of America just makes this a perfect chance to give back to the community,” he said “Boots on the ground is important to show people that Home Depot helped them out. And Volunteers of America helped them out, and hopefully, they’ll pay it forward in the future.”

New Orleans District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen agreed: “I am so thankful to Volunteers of America and the citizens of District E for coming together to clean up our area. We are a community where family comes first and today showed us what we can accomplish when given these types of opportunities to work together.”

Volunteers of America currently serves residents in eastern New Orleans via mental health and supportive living programs reaching 20,000 residents while Fresh Food Factor serves more than 2,000 fresh and healthy meals to school children each day in New Orleans East and more than 10,000 meals each day in the greater New Orleans area.

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