The Takiva Gray family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The Takiva Gray family

Takiva Gray, a cashier at Ochsner Medical Center, has two children: Allen, 12, and Jakia, who turns 8 on May 16, the final day of the Carter Project.

‘I’m not ready to give up on this city’

When Takiva Gray and her two children evacuated from the Carrollton community shortly before Katrina, they took two changes of clothes and one envelope that held the kids’ birth certificates and report cards.

“That was all we left with,” Gray said. “That was it. And we came back to absolutely nothing.”

Their rental home took on 10 feet of water in the storm. By the time Gray was allowed to return, mold and mildew had turned the interior of the house pitch black.

“It looked like it was 10 o’clock at night inside,” Gray said. “You can’t imagine what it feels like to see that.”

After Gray and her children fled Carrollton, along with Gray’s mother and two sisters, they ended up in Houston. Gray stayed there for a year, before being called back to her job as a cashier at Ochsner Medical Center. Her son, Allen, and daughter, Jakia, stayed for another full year with Gray’s mother.

“I’m not ready to give up on this city just yet,” she explained. “The goal was always for us to get back to New Orleans and start our lives again.”

It hasn’t been easy. Allen, 12, seemed to suffer the most emotional fallout after the storm, Gray said. He and his sister both have taken up karate since being displaced, and have found it very therapeutic. Jakia proudly shows visitors some ribbons she has won in sparring competitions, and Allen brings out two trophies, one of which is taller than he is.

The New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity is working with Gray and several homeowner partners during this year’s Carter Project. The Grays’ home will be started in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward during the weeklong project that ends May 16, which just happens to be the day Jakia turns 8.

‘People do care’

Until then, the family is sharing four cramped rooms in a run-down apartment complex. Allen, a sports fanatic, plans to decorate his new room with memorabilia and pictures of his favorite players. When asked which ones in particular, he said, “All of them! I love them all!”

He intends to be a basketball player when he grows up—or maybe a lawyer.

Jakia, who enjoys reading, is dreaming of a room decorated entirely with posters of Disney Channel stars: the Cheetah Girls, certainly, and Raven-Symone.

“We’ve never owned a home before,” their mom said, smiling. “This is very exciting for them.”

A lesson that seems to have registered already with the children is the concept of giving back. They’ve seen the kindnesses that strangers do, and it’s made an impression.

“My karate class does a lot of stuff in the community,” Allen said. “We like to help.”

“It’s amazing to me that you meet people from all over the world at the Habitat construction sites,” his mother said. “It’s heart wrenching, too, that so many people care.

“People do care.”

Affiliate Information:
New Orleans: More than 90 houses for the Big Easy

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity shares an important milestone with the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project this year: Both are celebrating 25 years of service.

In the past quarter-century, more than 200 families have moved into affordable homes through NOAHH. Remarkably, more than half of those homes have been built since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and another 160 are under construction.

“Our commitment to the New Orleans area has never been stronger,” said Jim Pate, executive director of the affiliate.

NOAHH builds houses in Orleans Parish (which includes New Orleans), along with the parishes of St. Bernard, St. Charles, Plaquemines and Jefferson, all of which were devastated by wind and water spawned by the 2005 hurricanes. Since then, 60,000 volunteers have pitched in to help rebuild houses and lives.

For this special Carter Project, New Orleans Habitat is going to build more than 90 houses in the most devastated parts of the city.