Since 1833, the First Street United Methodist Church has grown and thrived, celebrating its 172nd anniversary shortly before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the devastation, the church became the area’s post-Katrina distribution center, but its efforts were hampered as water poured through the church’s roof.
Responding to the church’s request for help, Mission from Minnesota arrived in New Orleans in December, 2005. With them came Daryl Kiesow, a Minnesotan with ten years roofing experience. Daryl intended to stay for only two weeks, however that changed once he arrived and noticed that almost every roof in sight was covered with a blue FEMA tarp. Realizing his particular skill set was desperately needed here, Daryl made plans to come back to New Orleans for a much longer period of time.
More and more volunteers were using the church as a host site as they did relief work in the neighborhood. Between 25 and 100 volunteers stayed in the church full-time for the better part of two years as they worked on gutting water-soaked drywall from homes in the neighborhood. Daryl volunteered with them for 15 months, leading roofing crews.
When the group moved on to their own facilities, taking their bunk beds and tools with them, Daryl worked by himself within the church’s walls until December of 2007 when he was given the green light to restart the church’s volunteer program. That’s when the United Saints’ Recovery Project was born.
Daryl posted an ad, asking for help building volunteer housing. Among the first to respond was Marcos, a fellow Midwesterner. Marcos helped set up the office space and acted as Volunteer Coordinator, while Daryl led the first volunteer groups in repairing a church-owned house across the street. They turned it into a volunteer house, increasing the United Saints’ in-house capacity to twenty beds.
From there, the focus returned to repairing neighborhood homes. Within three months, under the leadership of Daryl, Marcos, and Project Coordinator Leann Payne, United Saints grew from a one-man organization to a humanitarian organization that managed as many as 120 volunteers in a single day.
The United Saints made a commitment to work on at least 40 homes within our first year as an organization, a goal which we increased to 55 after those first 40 homes were completed. We not only completed those promised 55 homes within one year, we are still going strong, looking forward to the endless good we can accomplish in the years to come.