Program Served: AmeriCorps - 2009-2010; New Orleans, LA - Louisiana Delta Service Corps, Project Homecoming
Hometown: Fort Scott, Kansas
Alma Mater: University of New Orleans
Currently: Project Homecoming - Operations Director; New Orleans, LA
Duncan Cheney joined AmeriCorps through the Louisiana Delta Service Corps in 2009 after a week long service trip with his church to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina during his college years. Cheney wasn’t sure what he wanted to study or do after graduation, and decided to head back to Louisiana after hearing about this opportunity for service.
“Through service learning and early exposure, my service took me out of my comfortable, stable environment and exposed me to all kinds of different things,” said Cheney, who served as a worksite manager during his year of service with Project Homecoming. This entailed acting as volunteers’ liaison, teaching them construction skills, and getting them the materials they needed.
“You would be assigned to one project and see it through start to finish,” said Cheney. “You would stay three to four months on one project, so you really got to know the homeowner and neighbors.”
Cheney told a story about a final walk through and project cleanout at a home for a woman named Mrs. Valerie. “Mrs. Valerie was moved in with her things all unpacked, and on her refrigerator she had a message about how much she loved Project Homecoming in magnets,” said Cheney. “They were her words, not mine, and it was amazing she felt so strongly about our staff and organization.”
Cheney assumed he would only be with Project Homecoming one year, but one year turned into two, and then he decided to stay to finish his degree in Urban Planning from the University of New Orleans. He is now the Operations Director for Project Homecoming. “One thing I’ve been fortunate enough to experience is helping people,” said Cheney. “That will guide my career goals and other abilities to help others. I’m humbled to be in a place of service.”
Cheney recalls the mess of a city that he first showed up to, and says that New Orleans has never looked so good. “The rebuilding efforts have been larger than any government response could handle on its own, and a large part of the rebuilding has come from these service organizations,” said Cheney. “All these great things we hoped for are finally happening.”
Project Homecoming’s big mission now is affordable housing. “It’s amazing to see a family who doesn’t have a stable place to live transform to the day where they finally know they have a permanent home,” said Cheney. “I got to see boots on the ground how neighborhoods come back and how the pieces come together in a community.”