The Dianne Trahan family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The Dianne Trahan family

Diane Trahan, a security guard, keeps a photo of the pile of rubble that was left after Katrina hit her mobile home in Plaquemines Parish.

Volunteer’s legacy builds new lives

Dianne Trahan obviously is a tough woman. The mother of five is a security guard who doesn’t show her emotions often, all of her children are quick to say. But when she’s talking about her new Habitat house, she can barely get through a sentence without breaking down.

“When I tell, I cry,” Trahan said.

Trahan’s house-in-progress is in Bayou Blue, in a neighborhood already bright with houses and a playground sponsored by Oprah Winfrey, Jon Bon Jovi and Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity.

Before the hurricane season of 2005, Trahan lived in a mobile home in New Orleans’ Plaquemines Parish. She has photos of the pile of rubble that remained. “It wasn’t much,” she said. “But it was ours.”

“We’re starting over,” she added. “What else can you do? You go on.”

Surrounded by her children – sons Aaron Manual (a police officer) and Journell; and daughters Satina Pritchett and Crystal Trahan (mother of 2-year-old Diamond) – Trahan stands in the front yard of her new home, which will be dedicated during this year’s Carter Project.

A sign out front declares that Trahan’s house is dedicated to the memory of Obie Martin. At every Habitat build site, there are stories of connections made between homeowners and volunteers, between builders and families. But the story surrounding this house is truly unforgettable.

A life dreamed of

Martin and his wife of 24 years, Paula Costain, joined Habitat’s Care-a-Vanners program in November 2007, planning to drive their recreational vehicle from one build site to another and help out, while also seeing the country. After selling their home and business in Connecticut, the couple first helped build houses in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and then in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Martin had grown up.

After a side trip to Dallas to visit Martin’s two sons, the couple headed for Thibodaux. During this trip, Martin, who suffered from respiratory problems, was trying out an oxygen contractor, which separates oxygen from normal breathing air. He did what he could on the build site, carrying around his oxygen machine. Costain, using her newly learned skills on a chop saw and electric drill, would prepare balustrades for porches, and Martin would put them in place.

It was the life they had dreamed of.

But on Dec. 9, while the two were relaxing in their Bigfoot camper, Martin suffered a stroke. He was taken by ambulance to Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, where the extent of the damage quickly became clear. A few days later, Martin died.

Costain held a memorial service for her husband in his hometown of Shreveport and then got back to work in Thibodaux.

“We were going to make a lifetime of this,” Costain said, taking a break from building alongside a volunteer crew from Boston University. “This meant a great deal to both of us. We loved the work, loved the people, and admired and supported the cause.

“So I’m going on,” she continued. “I know my husband would be very happy that I have found both comfort and activity here. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be during this time of my life.”

On this particular workday, under a cloudless blue sky, homeowner Trahan walks over from her partially completed house to meet Costain for the first time.

“I wanted to say thank you,” Trahan said to Costain, choking back tears.

“Oh, I am so happy to meet you,” Costain replied, giving Trahan a full embrace. “I enjoyed working on your house, because I know what it means.

“It means something to you,” she added. “And it means something to me.”

Costain is hoping to be in Thibodaux for the formal dedication of Trahan’s house, but scheduling nowadays is tricky. She’s going to Livingston, Texas, on April 1 for a month of volunteering, and then has a Habitat build scheduled in Mexico in May.

“I’m energized by this,” Costain said. “I worked inside all my life, in a corporate setting, and I love this.

“It is a wonderful, wonderful life.”

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Thibodaux, Louisiana: Nine houses by the bayou

Thibodaux (pronounced TIB-uh-doe), a farming community of 15,000 souls located on the banks of Bayou Lafourche, may forever be best known for being mentioned in Hank Williams’ classic country song “Jambalaya (on the Bayou).”

Jeremy Becker, executive director of Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity, has a common arc to his life story: A native of Thibodaux, he earned an MBA from Nicholls State University and then left the area for a while. Ultimately, though, he moved back, married and settled down here.

“Whatever’s in the bayou water brought me back,” Becker joked.

In its first nine years of operation, the Bayou Area affiliate built 26 houses; in the two years since Hurricane Katrina, it has built 79. “The need is phenomenal,” Becker said. “We’re doing as much as we can.”

For this year’s Carter Project, the affiliate is building nine houses.