New Orleans—Following the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, particularly to New Orleans and the residents of the Lower 9th Ward, throngs of groups and individuals converged on the area hoping to help rebuild the once proud area. Among those was international celebrity Brad Pitt, who formed the Make It Right (MIR) Foundation and dedicated it to rebuilding 150 affordable, green, high quality homes which would allow some of the many displaced families to return to their roots, their family history.
One of the first corporate sponsors to join the cause was Shaw Industries which pledged to donate all the floors for all 150 homes. Shaw offered up styles from its premier Anso carpets, made from recyclable nylon 6 yarn and treated with the mill’s proprietary R2X stain resistor, as well as its eco-friendly EPIC hardwood and tile products. Both carpet and wood products are certified as cradle-to-cradle, meaning they can be recycled over and over without any loss of performance.
As a result of Shaw’s eco friendly products, as well as those from other sponsors, all MIR homes are built to the highest standards of eco-friendly construction by meeting the Platinum standards of U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green rating program.
In fact, two years ago during a breakfast sponsored by Shaw at USGBC’s Greenbuild show to honor MIR, Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC’s founder, praised the mill for taking a stand to do the right thing and “making [floors] that help us make better homes.”
Kristin Feireiss, editor of “Architecture in Time of Need,” the first book to document the projects and progress made by MIR, said the non-profit is “different from any other humanitarian activity. It is not only about collecting money—using rich people’s resources to address poor people’s needs—it is about a powerful long-term concept, a complex operational process, and an ambitious design strategy. It is the search for answers to the problems of global warming within architecture’s most repetitive model—the family residence. MIR does not showcase a new sustainability concept for a corporate headquarters, but rather deals with the normally neglected, the usually restrictive issues of the world: low-income, affordable and sustainable houses, the housing of the masses—the architecture of daily life.”
Four-plus years into MIR’s mission, more than 70 homes have been built. Pitt said thanks to the work done by architects, designers, sponsors and everyone involved with MIR, the organization can build a sustainable, quality home for about $150,000.
While the cost to build a home is clear, some may question the notion they are quality, healthy and sustainable, even though many of the houses now dotting the Lower 9th include such features as solar panels. But all one needs to do is listen to the families who are living in them.
Collins Foots, a retired truck driver who had lived in the same home since 1968 until Katrina destroyed it, said his electric bill in his new MIR home is just $8 a month, which is the power company’s connection fee.
One of the biggest advocates is Melba Leggett-Barnes, who said besides her energy bills being less than $25 a month, her family’s medical bills have been reduced as they no longer have to run to the asthma doctor.
In fact, she has openly spoke out in favor of Shaw’s carpet as a main contributor to her living a healthier life. Barnes admitted she was against having carpet put in the home for fear it would add to her asthma symptoms due to stories she read and saw. “When they first wanted to put carpet down I said, ‘No.’”
But having lived with the carpet and having no asthma symptoms since moving into her new home, today she is a big believer in carpet. “I have a beautiful home with beautiful floors and we’re happy and healthy.”
It is those types of stories that keep MIR moving toward its goal. And, on March 10, it was given a big boost thanks to an all-star celebrity fundraising gala at the newly reopened Hyatt hotel in New Orleans. Featuring a dinner prepared by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse, performances by Sheryl Crow, Rihanna, Snoop Dog, Seal and others, the event was billed as the single largest night of fundrasing in the city’s history.
With 1,700 people including celebrities like Harrison Ford forking over between $1,000 and $2,500 for the event, which included a late-night after party and brunch the following morning, Pitt said the dinner alone raised enough money to build another 25 homes.
And, a live auction featuring such items as a motorcycle ridden by Pitt, along with a challenge to audience members to “sponsor a home” enough money was raised to construct upwards of 10 more houses.
Along with donating the floors for the homes, Shaw was one of two sponsors for an educational event in the Lower 9th prior to the fundraiser to help people get a better understanding of the devastation that still exists and the efforts being done to bring families home. Plus, for the fundraiser itself, Shaw was not only listed as just one of eight “Patron” table sponsors, it was the only manufacturer.
“Make It Right is such a worthy effort,” said Kathy Young, Shaw’s residential marketing director. “We feel privileged to be a part of this noble cause because it is about doing what’s right—helping families rebuild their lives with healthy, sustainable homes.”
Perhaps Diedra Taylor, a single mother of four who had just purchased her first home a few months before Katrina and is now living in a newly constructed MIR home, said it best. “When I hear Make It Right’s name, the first thing I think of is hope.”
To learn more about Make It Right or to make a donation, call 888.647.6652 or visit makeitrightnola.org.