Ward of Difference: Graveyard Shift

When Hurricane Katrina tore through the South, both the living and the dead were impacted. The flooding and winds caused many cemeteries' above-ground vaults to become damaged and dislodged. Though cranes returned displaced tombs to their respective cemeteries shortly after the hurricane hit, many of the tombs were left cracked and in desperate need of repainting.

"It's been five years since Katrina, and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," says New Orleans 1st Ward member Sarah Broussard. "If my family were buried there, I would have been very sad to see their resting place in such disarray."

On a stake-wide day of service this April, Broussard and her ward partnered with local volunteers in the ongoing effort to restore the Merrick Cemetery. Twenty-nine ward members spent the day removing old paint from damaged vaults with wire brushes. Once the paint had been taken off, the tombs were given a fresh coat of whitewash.

"In two and a half hours, we brushed twenty-two graves and painted nineteen!" says Americorps representative Autumn Dean, who helped with the project. "The group worked very hard and did a great job. I'd be privileged to work with them again."

"The volunteers in charge told us we'd done an excellent job and that we'd done twice the amount of tombs that a normal group does," adds Broussard.

But it wasn't just the community that benefited from the project - the volunteers did as well. "We experienced what almost all service projects achieve - and that is an increased bond of fellowship," says Bishop Terry Seamons. "As you well know, any time we engage in the service of others, our lives are altered for the good."

And though there is still much to be done at the Merrick Cemetery, the day of service did a great deal to help. Community member Roy Douglas came to the cemetery on the day of service and was delighted to find the ward members whitewashing one of his own family's tombs. Of the cemetery, he says, "It's coming back."

He expressed his gratitude for the ward's service, speaking for countless others whose departed family members were served that day: "Y'all made a difference by coming here. It was a blessing. Y'all made a difference."

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