Home Sweet Home
It was only six months ago, after witnessing the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that Oprah pledged $10 million of her own money toward building homes—and rebuilding lives. Oprah.com launched Oprah's Katrina Homes registry so that viewers could shop online to help furnish the houses. In a matter of weeks, Oprah's Angel Network received millions of dollars in donations! And to this day, donations keep pouring in for Katrina families who have lost everything.
Moving into action, Oprah's Angel Network teamed up with Habitat for Humanity® to build and furnish homes for 65 families relocated to Houston. Just a couple of months after announcing her pledge, Oprah delivered the good news to the first 50 families. It was a moment of pure joy for Oprah when she traveled with the families to the site of their new neighborhood on Angel Lane.
While our volunteer "Angel army" worked on the houses' exteriors, Nate was busy designing three different decorating schemes for the interiors. Nate personally selected furnishings—sofas, rugs, bedding, dining room tables, lighting fixtures and more. As the homes neared completion, Nate coordinated paint colors for every room of each home, making sure the colors worked with the fabrics and furnishings he chose.
After months of planning and shopping, the delivery day for all the items finally arrived. A caravan of trucks headed down Angel Lane, with our friends from Target leading the way! Volunteers helped to unload the items, which were different for every house. "We wanted each house to be special," Nate explained. "Not every family is the same, so each house is going to have its own feeling."
While Nate and the team of volunteers decorated the interiors, landscapers worked to make the outside of the homes as beautiful as the inside. "It's coming together beautifully!" Nate said.
Watch Nate transform the houses on Angel Lane into homes!
Recently, Tammy and her sister Elonda returned to New Orleans to say a final goodbye to the house that held a lifetime of memories. Before going in, they had to put on protective gear because there was dangerous mold everywhere. When they stepped inside, they were shocked by what they saw. Looters had been in the home—even their couch was missing. The walls were covered in grime and there were piles of trash everywhere.
As they walked through each room, Tammy found many sentimental objects—her daughter's violin, family pictures, a journal, her son's pillow—but not a single piece could be salvaged. The kitchen, once the heart of Tammy's home, was in ruins.
"Everything we had worked for the last nine years was just demolished," Tammy said. "We had just finished paying [off] every lick of furniture. Everything we worked for is gone."
For Tammy, the full impact of Katrina's destruction was still sinking in. "When I looked around, I saw visions of ... my family being trapped," she said. "It's just devastating to think my family could have been dead. It's hard to say goodbye, but I believe God has a better plan."
"It's so beautiful!" Tammy says as she steps inside. "I'm so excited I think I'm going to fall down!"
The living room is painted in earth tones that complement the gold window treatments, deep brown furniture and blue accent pillows. On one wall hangs a special gift from Pam Francis Photography—the family recently sat down for their first professionally photographed portrait!
The kitchen is ready to go—cabinets are full of dishes and glasses from Target. Feed the Children and H-E-B grocery stores stocked the fridge and pantry. In the master bedroom, Tammy is moved to see that the paint color, a gorgeous green shade, is the same as her old room in New Orleans. "It makes it feel like home," she says, her eyes filling with tears. "God is good. ... Thank you, Oprah!"
Melissa had owned her home for the past 10 years. She had just completed a major renovation only two months before the storm hit. Melissa and her sons fled to Texas right before the hurricane devastated their neighborhood. She couldn't believe her eyes when she saw TV reports a few days later. "I was looking at the news, and the lady was calling in because her family was trapped on the roof," Melissa said. "And when she gave the name of the streets, I realized that that street was one street from my house. When they said the levees broke and the water was coming, I knew that my area was destroyed."
"You can replace furniture, you can replace a house, but this is something that you can only have a memory of," Melissa said of the picture. "I can't replace that. ... It's something that I will have to keep at heart because there is nothing else I can do."
As the family dug through the debris, they only found a few salvageable items from their life before Katrina. "I have a '#1 Mom' pendant from Earl that I received on Mother's Day one year, so I was glad to find it," Melissa said. "So I can get a chain and wear it proudly because this is it—this is all we have from New Orleans."
It's on to the bedrooms—each family member will finally have a special place of their own! Nate places a memento in each room to replace something each family member lost in the hurricane. For Melissa, a framed photo of her sons; for Torren, a new backpack and games; and for Earl, a prized poster he received for excellence in leadership, to replace the original damaged in Hurricane Katrina.
There's one last surprise outside for Earl and Torren, who are both huge basketball fans—it's their very own basketball hoop! Angel Lane is already beginning to feel like home.
While they rode out the storm in a high-rise building, their home was flooded under 12 feet of water. They spent a few uncertain days traveling around the area before fleeing to Houston.
Recently, Esther and Nathan returned to their old neighborhood, which is now a ghost town. Their apartment was so damaged it was barely safe to enter. Nathan was devastated to see a lifetime of treasures destroyed. Some of his favorite pieces of art were ruined, including a portrait of Esther. Cherished family photographs were missing—even Esther and Nathan's wedding album was nowhere to be found.
"I said goodbye in my heart in there," Nathan said after seeing his home in ruins. "I'm glad I don't have to come here again."
The kitchen contains more surprises, including fully stocked cabinets and brand new appliances. Fresh flowers and pretty place settings grace the elegant dining room table. Plus, Esther and Nathan have everything they'll need to keep their home looking new, from a vacuum cleaner to a washer and dryer.
In Esther and Nathan's new master bedroom, shades of blue and brown create a soothing space. A framed photo of the couple with Nate, taken when the house was under construction, reminds them of all their hard work. Nathan says he is proud to know he had a hand in building his own home. "The best part about it is that it's personal," Nathan says.
"I couldn't guess how beautiful it would be!" Esther says.
After leaving New Orleans with no money and just the clothes on his back, Rodney moved to Houston, where his 5-year old daughter, Jade, was living with her mother.
Rodney was able to get a job as a high school health teacher, and his life is looking up, but he dreams of providing a good home for his daughter. For the past six months, Rodney has been living with his parents—when Jade visits, she sleeps on the couch or the floor. Rodney applied to receive a Habitat for Humanity® house in Houston so that Jade will finally have a room of her own.
The pink walls and fun floral bedspread are so pretty. Plenty of stuffed animals, books and toys make it a little girl's dream room.
"It's what we've been looking for," Rodney says. "I'm ecstatic!"
The next day, floodwaters surged, filling Lynell's home, but she escaped to higher ground. From atop her neighbor's house, Lynell could only watch as the floodwaters washed away everything she owned. "The only thing I had was the clothes that I had on my back," Lynell says. "I lost everything."
Finally, Lynell found shelter, but it was days before she got the news that Ariel was safe in Fort Worth. Without a home or job, Lynell left for Houston to stay with her brother and piece together a new life. It took weeks to find an apartment of her own and to enroll in a community college—weeks spent away from Ariel.
"Every time I think of that, I cry because my mother is like [the] only person I really look up to," Ariel says. "I love her with all of my heart. I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world."
After three long months, Lynell was finally able to reunite with her daughter. "Now that I'm back with her, I love her and appreciate her even more," Ariel says about her mother. "I know she will always be there."
Lynell, Ariel and Noel—Lynell's son who attends college in Georgia—plus eight other families wait excitedly on their porches for the signal to open their front doors for the first time. Welcome home, everybody!
Houston is only the beginning, Oprah says—Oprah's Angel Network has committed to putting 250 families affected by Hurricane Katrina in new homes. "I'm hoping you will continue to open your hearts and do what you can," Oprah says.