Image: Carter Oosterhouse
John Black / HGTV
Carter Oosterhouse, known for his home improvement shows on HGTV, is helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina.
NBC News
updated 8/30/2010 1:24:31 PM ET 2010-08-30T17:24:31

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, Carter Oosterhouse, who first appeared in the public eye as the carpenter on "Trading Spaces," talks about his work with Rebuilding Together . The organization does volunteer house repairs for the elderly, people with disabilities and those affected by natural disaster. In light of the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Rebuilding Together has launched an initiative, “Fifty for Five,” to mobilize rapid construction of quality housing in New Orleans. Oosterhouse tells us about his vision of Fifty for Five, his volunteer work in post-disaster New Orleans, and the importance of remembering Hurricane Katrina.

Interviewed by Hannah Ferreri

Q: Tell me about Rebuilding Together’s Fifty For Five Initiative in New Orleans.

Oosterhouse: Fifty for Five is really to celebrate the last five years of rebuilding that’s happened in New Orleans, since the hurricane happened. From Aug. 24th to the 28th, I and a few other people from HG — will work with Rebuilding Together (HG has partnered with Rebuilding Together for the last couple years on various projects). Fifty for Five is rehabbing 50 homes in five days, and really getting them up to par. The reality of it is not about a lot of the stuff that you see on shows, where you go and try to get the priciest pieces in the room. It’s more about just working with people and really seeing the needs that they have in their home. A lot of these things are things that I think people take for granted, like whether they’re being energy efficient in their home. Heating, flooring, bringing in energy through appliances, a new roof on the place, plumbing, electrical, whatever that may be. Just working with these very large teams that Rebuilding Together and Sears has put together, a lot of volunteers, and rehabbing these homes.

Q: How are you personally helping the initiative and what motivates you most to help?

Oosterhouse: Personally, I will help, I’ll be there pounding nails. I’ll be there on camera a little bit. Just actually getting in and working with other volunteers, just like everybody else is. You know I’ve been down there, to the region. I think this will probably be my eighth time working on a project down there in the last five years, and it’s good to get down there because you get to see the improvement of the city. We were down there a few a months after the hurricane hit and I was able to see the impact that the hurricane made, and it was just this eerie feeling. Just this lost feeling, like you weren’t really in New Orleans. Now to see in the last five years, the revitalization, the people who have invested in this area and the support from all over, all over, really, the support that this area has received.

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Trust me, there’s still a lot more to do. But it’s great to see people coming down, to see people joining together. We’re having a big block party at the end and then on Saturday night bands are going to be playing, food will be there. It’s really to celebrate not only the people that have helped, but really, the people who have been through this because it’s definitely had a huge impact on their lives. Of course not everybody chose to stay there, but the ones who have, we want to continually help them. Fortunately, with Rebuilding Together, they’re able to bring in people so that collectively we’ll have over a thousand volunteers working in this community. Trying to help people, you know, give a little back to them.

Q: Why has it taken so many years to get New Orleans back on its feet?

Oosterhouse: Without getting into too much politics, the reality of it is that a lot of places you’re kind of starting from scratch and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to do and what direction to go into. It’s really a tightrope, you’re walking down a slippery slope because you want to make sure that you do what is right for people but at the same time you have to understand their needs and their wants. When I say “their” I mean the people who have lived there, their whole lives. You want to help them, but you don’t want to infringe on them. With that there comes a lot different view points.

It’s not one home. It’s thousands of homes. It’s businesses, homes and commerce. It’s time consuming and I’m sure not everybody’s going to be happy. But projects like this, not only are we affecting 50 different homes so we’re affecting numerous lives, but at the same time, we’re just trying to get these people back on their feet.

Q: What do you think needs to be done in order to finish the rebuilding?

Oosterhouse: Not only are we celebrating the last five years of people helping, but we’re just bringing awareness to the area. It’s hard to turn on the TV right now and not see something about New Orleans since it is the five-year anniversary. So it’s good to see that because we can’t forget, you know? For people in the U.S., I think that things come in and go out pretty quick. So when you don’t see stuff on TV … stuff like this is good because they’ll remember. This is a huge part of U.S. culture, New Orleans is, and we want to make sure that we still let people know that there’s still a lot to do for a lot of people. At any time, not only projects like this, but at anytime people are welcome. I’m sure that the people of New Orleans will welcome people to come down and help in various areas.

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