Posts Tagged ‘playground’

Beacon of Hope in New Orleans

Friday, February 6th, 2009


When Rick Larsen and I started visiting New Orleans in early 2007 to identify charities for the “Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans” campaign, one of the first people we met was Denise Thornton.  Denise was the founder and president of what was, at the time, a brand-new and still small charity called Beacon of Hope Resource Center.  Denise and her husband Doug had founded “Beacon” after returning home following Hurricane Katrina.


You can imagine the challenges they faced as they tried to repair their flood-damaged home.  They had to coordinate the clean-up, turn back on utilities, purchase tools and materials, and hire contractors.  It was daunting.

For many of their neighbors, it seemed too daunting. Those residents postponed their return or gave up entirely because they didn’t see how the city could recover or how they could survive while the neighborhoods around them were so badly damaged.  So while most people waited, the neighborhood languished and the recovery stumbled along. 

Except for Denise and Doug Thornton and their friends and supporters.  They formed the first Beacon of Hope in their Lakewood neighborhood to provide information, support, and resources to residents wanting to return home.  They later added services in the form of advocacy, community programs and coordination of external volunteers in order to ensure that whole neighborhoods could recover and, eventually, they would help a city thrive.

The Beacon concept was an amazing success.  Today, the organization supports 12 resource centers (Beacons) servicing 22 neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Beacon serves an estimated 10,000 children living in 20,000 households in the Lake Area (Lakeview and Lakewood neighborhoods), Gentilly, Pontilly, and the Lower Ninth Ward in Orleans Parish. Those neighborhoods range from 79% recovered (Lakewood) to 19% (Lower Ninth Ward).  

And Beacon has even assisted communities outside of Louisiana that are trying to recover from their own natural disasters.  No wonder that it has been recognized locally, nationally and even by the United Nations for its community rebuilding efforts.

In 2008, Operation Kids and its partner, the Brees Dream Foundation, contributed $60,000 to Beacon to continue its important rebuilding efforts. Bacon will use the funding at several neighborhood centers, including on projects planned for the still-recovering Gentilly community.  In October, for example, Beacon hosted its largest volunteer project ever when nearly 2000 volunteers turned out to rejuvenate the Mirabeau Gardens neighborhood in Gentilly. They installed a new playground, planted 300 trees, cleaned and cut down 85 overgrown lots, and assisted 58 homeowners with rebuilding their properties.  

The Beacon of Hope Resource Center staff and volunteers continue to do tremendous work. We’re proud to support them in their efforts.


Steve Reiher, VP of Marketing & Development





Happy New Year, New Orleans

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Residents of the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans started off the New Year with a sparkling new, state-of-the-art, child-safe playground, thanks to the efforts of Operation Kids and partners Allstate Foundation, Injury Free Coalition for Kids and New Orleans Recreation Department. It’s all part of our joint effort to finish rebuilding six playgrounds in Katrina-damaged sections of the Crescent City over the next two years.

I had the pleasure of traveling to New Orleans around Christmas to participate in the community build day. Nearly 100 residents of Bywater turned out for the early morning event at Markey Park. The formerly neglected and overgrown space in one of New Orleans’ most densely populated communities has been slowly reclaimed during the past months as neighbors joined together make it a social and family gathering place once again. Markey Park now hosts art fairs and other community events and has been popular with families and dog owners. The playground, complete with swings, slides, exercise areas and other elements will now make it a magnet for small children as well.My primary job was to help dig post holes for the equipment. Our task was complicated by the foundation of an old building that we hit about a foot down, but in the end we got through it and safely erected the colorful and strong playground equipment. I came away sore and dirty, but made a lot of new friends, too!

The playground was dedicated on January 3. New Orleans city councilmembers Arnie Fielkow and James Carter were among those participating in the ceremony.

Our New Orleans partnership plans to build another playground in the spring. We are in the process of picking that location now.

Markey Park makes the second playground the partnership has rebuilt in New Orleans. We dedicated the Lyons Center Park playground in January 2008.

The Injury Free Coalition for Kids and playground equipment manufacturer Little Tykes should be applauded for the safe and high quality equipment they provide for the playgrounds. We also recognize the Allstate Foundation for its tremendous generosity, and for the difference it makes in communities across the nation.