Meatball therapy in the Ninth Ward

class=img_thumbleft>Hundreds of Minnesotans have gone down to New Orleans over the past year and a half to gut houses and otherwise help out in the flood-ravaged Ninth Ward---most volunteering through their church or synagogue. Now the private sector is pitching in: Last weekend, 30 construction workers from Minnesota companies flew to the city under the leadership of the Twin Cities-based River of Hope. Created last year by Red Cross therapist Dr. Rebecca Thomley, and funded in part out of savings from the nonprofit she heads, Orion Associates, the organization has brought some 300 plumbers and roofers to work on more than 35 homes for the poor and elderly. Thomley, whose Red Cross truck was among the first into the city in October 2005, has since returned seven times. Last year she put Sen. Mark Dayton to work. "Whatever criticism you might have of him," she says. "He worked hard."

Two months ago, River of Hope opened a mental health center in a gutted dry cleaner in the Upper Ninth Ward, open Saturdays with volunteers flying in every weekend--Thomley warns new recruits about the rats. Most of those walking-in just need to be heard. "Services have not been restored to this area, and there's certainly a feeling of having been forgotten," says Thomley. "The government is not there, and these are our people, these are Americans." Volunteers can call Zenith Services at 763.450.5000.