It began with the desire to do something good. I have had a deep love for New Orleans since the early ’80s when I ran a neighborhood social service center for the Catholic Diocese there. Watching Katrina/Rita and seeing the maps of flooding were personally painful. So, I’d been thinking I’d do something. The next time I did a life-planning retreat down there I’d invite my clients to take an extra day and work on a Habitat for Humanity site. My love was rekindled when I dropped off my daughter Cece for a year of service with City Year New Orleans. And I was so impressed and proud when I heard my cousin Christine Bitonti and my Aunt Susan Sanitate had visited her when they, of all things, went to the 9th Ward for a week-long blitz build with Habitat. For some reason, though, my thinking about helping changed…
Much as New Orleans needed and needs help, I thought: Let Brad Pitt and the Neville Brothers and Dr. John do that work, but Detroit has been hit by its own hurricane and is beset with its own difficulties. So, why go to New Orleans? Why not organize a family reunion of sorts, where we build a house in our own homeland, Detroit? Maybe on Garland, the street that my mom and Christine’s mom grew up on. I knew I neither had the time, nor the skills to organize it. So I called Christine and pitched her on it: What if we get the family together for a reunion with a purpose, stop whining about “what’s happened to Detroit” and instead we’ll “happen” to Detroit. I explained that I couldn’t make it happen but I thought she’d be great, and she answered with three words, “I’m your girl.”
That was about 6 months ago. With Christine’s leadership we’ve raised over $15,000 to help pay for the house. This past week with brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, my 79-year old mom, and lots of other awesome Habitat volunteers, we put up walls, roof, studs aplenty, and siding. Now the skilled tradesmen are in. We reconvene after July 4th for a week to complete the house – cabinets, trim, paint, sod – the whole works. Our relatives are coming back from NY, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, California and other parts to make it happen; forty in all have committed to work. My sister Ann and niece Gigi were there every day this week. Christine was there too. She’d run the Facebook page, coordinated volunteers, worked with Habitat; if that wasn’t enough she and her husband Lou provided food for 100 workers at the site on Thursday. Chris’ mom raised 8 kids, then became a school secretary, and then published two novels. Chris is fast in her mom’s footsteps, leading at home, the most important place we’ll lead, and then organizing a much bigger corner of the world.
I salute her this morning, an everyday leader, leading with her best self!
P.S. When my Aunt Margaret, the senior member of my dad’s side of the family – herself a mother of eight – heard what we were doing, she said the Mulhern’s are going to do it, too, and look out cousins, she’s on the phone!!! Is your family due for a reunion?