Bush Joins Habitat Volunteers in Katrina Rebuilding Efforts

After Hurricane Katrina left thousands of people homeless, families on the storm-damaged Gulf Coast have been gaining new homes through the continuous rebuilding efforts of Christian organizations, including Habitat for Humanity.

The nonprofit, ecumenical ministry was joined by President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush on Tuesday in Covington, La., to help build houses for three families whose homes were demolished by Katrina.

Habitat volunteers from around the country joined in the effort to extend a hand of encouragement to the survivors of the hurricane and "to love a neighbor," which Bush mentioned as the primary reason for their volunteer work.

With the initial flooding by Hurricane Katrina that had covered 80 percent of New Orleans now pumped out, Habitat entered its next chapter in Operation Home Delivery - a rebuilding effort to build and deliver pre-built and "containerized" home panels to Gulf Coast communities where they can quickly be rebuilt on their final foundations, according to the ministry.

It also marked a new phase in Make a Difference Today, which is a partnership between the NBC News program "Today," Warner Music and Habitat for Humanity International. Volunteers pre-built 65 homes two weeks ago in Rockefeller Plaza, Jackson, Miss., and Burbank, Calif., for families affected by Katrina. Last week, one pre-built home was rebuilt and dedicated in Slidell, La.

The three additional Covington homes followed in the reconstruction and rebuilding process.

Bush described the joint operation and partnership as "a great contribution" to helping people rebuild their lives.

Habitat's chief executive officer, Jonathan Reckford, elaborated on their contribution, saying, "We are working with our corporate and faith sponsors, communities, governments, the president and first lady and others to build hope, and to build good, strong communities."

The three families being helped by the operation are Jakulin Collins and her three children, Tanya Jackson and her two children, and Lillie McClain and her three children.

"We've seen the spirits change," said Bush on the build site. "Local people are beginning to realize there's hope ... there's a chance to rebuild lives ... and a lot of people care about them."

This was Bush's eighth visit to the region since the hurricane struck Aug. 29. At least 1,209 people were killed in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Churches and relief organizations across the nation have revealed a long term commitment to relief and recovery works on the battered Gulf Coast, collecting offerings and donations and sending millions of dollars in aid money.

Beyond immediate assistance, Reckford expressed Habitat's long term plan.

"The storm came and went quickly," he said, "but Habitat, which has been working in communities like Covington and New Orleans, Biloxi and Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pascagoula, for years, will be here for years more, through the rebuilding and beyond."