Beacon of Hope - Revitalizing and Empowering New Orleans

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Beacon of Hope Resource Center
City & State:
New Orleans, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Leading the way home, Beacon of Hope Resource Center provides a model for recovery in neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. Providing information and resources, encouraging civic action, and fostering repopulation form the foundation on which we build and grow.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Microsoft Office has not only played a role in our organization, but in the recovery of the City of New Orleans and other devastated areas. Our story is one of ordinary people using ordinary tools to create something extraordinary.

Denise Thornton was one of many terrified New Orleanians who rode out Hurricane Katrina in the Superdome. She made a pact with God to do something more meaningful with her life if she survived. “Sitting there, I just didn’t feel worthy,” Thornton said. “When you are sitting there watching the destruction and the human suffering, you think all hands need to be on deck. We’ll never overcome this unless everyone who has a talent, something to give, steps up.”

So, Denise Thornton stepped up. On February 14th, 2006, Beacon of Hope Resource Center was founded in Denise’s gutted home in one of the most flood ravaged neighborhoods in New Orleans, Lakewood South. She believed that if the neighborhood was safe and viable again, others would be willing to return.

Using Excel, she created a database of neighborhood contact information and began communicating with her neighbors via Outlook. Denise was surprised to discover that many of her neighbors were willing to return, but didn’t have enough information to make a firm decision. For many residents, Denise’s e-mails provided the only communication they had with their own city.

Denise walked the streets, collecting data and analyzing the condition of every home in her community using Windows Mobil software. She then created an Excel database and categorized homes into three distinct criteria: renovation in progress, future uncertain, or for sale with no intention of returning.

Using PowerPoint, she generated maps and presentations to give returning residents a visual picture of the neighborhood’s status and help neighbors find others who were rebuilding around them. Many saw that the neighborhood was indeed viable and would rebuild successfully.

She then utilized volunteers and advocated for the restoration of basic city services for her neighborhood. Volunteer projects were managed using Outlook Calendar and an Excel database. She provided hot meals, coffee, a shoulder to cry on, and, most importantly, hope. Her home naturally evolved into the heartbeat of Lakewood. As word spread, Beacon of Hope Resource Center grew from neighbors helping neighbors to neighborhoods helping neighborhoods. Beacons opened throughout New Orleans in Lakeview, Gentilly, and the Lower Ninth Ward.

Partnering with University of New Orleans, Beacon of Hope Resource Center developed a Geographic Information System (GIS). Teams of residents collect survey data throughout their neighborhoods and input the information into an Excel spreadsheet. The Excel data is integrated with mapping images to create conditions maps, as well as walking and flood maps. These generated maps provide a visual way for residents, businesses, and government agencies to identify Louisiana Land Trust (Road Home) properties, blight, and occupancy rates. This information also provided comfort and encouragement to evacuated residents trying to return home.

Beacon of Hope Resource Center has created the Sustainable Neighborhood Revitalization and Community Empowerment Model, outlining the steps Denise took to revive her neighborhood. The Model’s visual aids were developed using Publisher and the manuals were created using Word. Beacon of Hope Resource Center hosts Neighborhood Impact Workshops led by Beacon, government, and city leaders. These leaders use PowerPoint and Word to teach other struggling neighborhoods how to facilitate their own recovery.

The vision has spread across state lines to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Bridge City, Texas. Today, Beacon of Hope Resource Center has established and supports seventeen Beacons servicing communities throughout New Orleans, Cedar Rapids and Bridge City. We have coordinated over 10,000 volunteers who have donated over 70,000 hours of service. We have had a 3.6 million dollar direct economic impact on Lakeview businesses. We have helped countless residents return and rebuild.

And to think… it all started with one housewife, one big idea, and one Microsoft Windows PC.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact