March 26, 2020

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, young people stepped up to rebuild their city

Meet Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, one of the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

The nonprofit Youth Rebuilding New Orleans buys abandoned homes in the city, rebuilds them, and sells them back to the community for less than fair market value.


Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

One of the country’s most destructive natural disasters upended a community, and it also inspired it. Founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the nonprofit Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO) engages local youth to play a critical role in the restoration process.

YRNO purchases destroyed and abandoned homes in the community and, with the help of youth volunteers ages 16-21, renovates them. The young people learn construction skills as well as job-readiness skills. When each home is complete, YRNO sells them below fair market value, providing affordable housing and stabilizing neighborhoods devastated by the 2005 storm. For their commitment to rebuilding their city, YRNO was named one of the 15 finalists of The Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, causing an estimated $161 billion in damage. More than 1,800 people died as a result of the storm. Many young people throughout New Orleans saw their neighborhoods destroyed, and they wanted to help relieve some of their communities’ damages. Because of their youth and inexperience, young people weren’t exactly hired for construction jobs. But a group of determined teens decided there was still something they could do, and so they formed YRNO.

Since the organization was founded, volunteers have rehabilitated nine homes in New Orleans and currently have multiple projects underway.

“This experience, paired with a robust job readiness curriculum, prepares them for success in the professional world,” wrote America Lenox, program manager at YRNO, in her Renewal Award nomination.

YRNO also provides affordable home repair assistance to local homeowners in need. In the past 10 years, the organization has helped homeowners gut their homes, clean up yards, remove storm debris, and assisted with other cleanup projects to help revitalize their city.

As the group continues to gain more experience and staff, YRNO hopes it increases its capacity to give back and build houses faster than it has been able to previously.

Follow Youth Rebuilding New Orleans on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can donate to the nonprofit here.

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.