6 months after flood, unlikely volunteers help people return home

ST. GABRIEL, LA (WAFB) - It's all hands on deck inside a St. Gabriel cabinet shop, as table saws screech through fresh raw plywood, pneumatic drills counter-sink screws into pre-cut pockets and electric sanders buff off all the rough edges off of custom-made cabinets.

And with more than 100,000 homes being re-modeled or rebuilt after the August floods, there is plenty of work to go around.

Charles Benton is the defacto foreman of the shop. He has been here the longest.

"Taking the plywood from raw plywood to a finished cabinet gives you a sense of satisfaction," Benton said.

Darrel Cyprian has stationed himself in one corner gluing and nailing the frames of dozens of drawers.

"When I first came into carpenter class, I came to get a trade," Cyprian explained.

All of the dozen or so men making sawdust in the shop are recent graduates of Baton Rouge Community College's carpentry class. What's more, they are all volunteers. They hammer out cabinets after they knock off of their day jobs. It has more than a little to do with who they are building them for.

Across the parish line in north Baton Rouge, Ethel Underwood watches as her new cabinets are anchored in place. These cabinets replace the ones her husband built when they moved in 27 years ago. The old ones sat in three feet of water for two days. Underwood said she could not believe the mess the first time she returned to her home after the flood.

"It was bad; I mean bad," she said. "Smelly. Bad."

The Underwood home was one of the first Habitat for Humanity homes built in Baton Rouge. Volunteers helped build it then and they are helping rebuild it again.

Eighteen of the 330 Habitat for Humanity homes in the Greater Baton Rouge Area took on water last August. Lynn Clark, the group's executive director, said the call for help went out immediately.

"When the flood hit, we knew we had to provide some kind of response to the need that was here," Clark said.

The carpentry shop in St. Gabriel stepped up. And the volunteers there would not have it any other way.

Sawdust swirls in the air around Glen Glenn as he sands the face of a cabinet.

"It gives you peace of mind," said Glenn. "Some serenity about the place you're stationed . . . prison."

This cabinet shop is inside the Elyan Hunt Correctional Center and all of the carpenters are inmates.

"It gives you something to do, a place to go. It gives meaning to your day," Benton explained.

It's proof that, to meet the need today, heart is even more important that power tools.