Monday, May 01, 2006


Katie Vanderhook shows her ruined New Orleans home to visitors

"I am lucky to have St. Paul’s. It is like a family."

"This is it, 12th Street," says Katie Vanderhook, pushing open the door to the New Orleans home she used to rent with her sister Victoria. It's April, and the house is still littered with the stuff of their pre-Katrina lives. Photographs, clothes and makeup, books, linens – all ruined – will have to be thrown out. None of it can be reclaimed, or, like the photographs, replaced.

Katie didn’t take much with her on the Saturday she fled Hurricane Katrina. She left her car in the driveway, climbed into another car with three children and two other adults, and spent 26 hours driving to Houston, Texas. Four months later, she came back to the city, where she has lived since she was 8.

The house on 12th Street has been in Katie’s family for 18 years. Like many others in the neighborhood it is a "tear down," and eventually will be bulldozed. While some people have the means to come back and rebuild, Katie hasn’t seen too many neighbors return. She won’t, either. She used to be a pre-K teacher at St. Paul's school. Now, she moves around a lot, providing babysitting for working parents who have difficulties finding child care anywhere in New Orleans. Many of the providers haven’t come back and the buildings that used to house them are mostly gone.

"Everybody lost everything," she says. "I am lucky to have St. Paul’s. It is like a family." Come June, she will be the director of Camp Care-A-Lot, St. Paul’s summer camp for kids. It’s important to her to keep the camp going as a sign that St. Paul’s is moving forward.

Camp also gives her something positive focus on, although she doesn’t sorrow so much over losses as rejoice in things found, like the crucifix given to her by her aunt, Lillian McCormack, a Sister of Notre Dame.

"It was the crucifix she received when she made her vows. It had been on my dresser. It was under the bed. Jesus was face up and he was clean. Nothing a little bleach couldn’t handle."
Most precious of her finds was a small bottle of Holy Water she got in Greece last summer. It was still sealed when she pulled it out of the medicine chest in the bathroom.

"I held onto it and thought, this is going to get me through the rest of my life."


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