Zephyrs help rebuild New Orleans kids' club

Team joins Frank Foundation's Magical Builders to work on Boys & Girls Club

Hands On Networking volunteer T.C. Kida helps to tear down the run-down bleachers at the Westbank Boys & Girls Club in New Orleans. (Magical Builders)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | April 5, 2006 3:52 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- One was a recent college graduate who came to this region soon after Hurricane Katrina hit and has stayed ever since. One was an employee of a similar facility in Alabama who took his vacation time to come here and help rebuild this one. There was a group of high school students from Minnesota who are spending their spring break here.

They came from all walks of life and all parts of the country, people who wanted to find some way to help rebuild New Orleans post-Katrina. One way or another they made it to the Westbank Boys & Girls Club to help in a renovation effort led by the Frank Foundation's Magical Builders.

Magical Builders, whose mission is to better the lives of children by renovating and rebuilding facilities for them, worked with Major League Baseball to renovate a Detroit Boys & Girls Club during last July's All-Star break. They will do the same in Pittsburgh this year in what will be an annual project.

This time, Magical Builders set their sights on the Minor Leagues, partnering with the New Orleans Zephyrs to fix up this club damaged by Katrina in conjunction with their Opening Day on Thursday.

"It was sort of a last-second project," said Jon Frank, who started the foundation with his wife, Christy. "We put it all together and it's an amazing thing. We've had people travel 15 hours just to come here and make this happen and get this Boys & Girls Club back up and running."

The club has been closed since the hurricane hit in late August, keeping hundreds of children from usual after-school programs. Now it will be open this summer, providing services not just for the normal community, but the overflow of displaced people who have relocated to this area of the city.

"It was incredible opportunity for us to come down here and do this," Christy Frank said. "This is one of the few clubs that's even standing still. If we could come in, clean it up and get it running again, it'll service not just the kids from this club, but the other clubs that are no longer here."

The Franks are quick to point out that without two very large influences, this project never would have been possible. The first are the Zephyrs, who have shown an incredible commitment to the city of New Orleans simply by playing all year here. But it's clear the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals wants to be more than just an entertainment diversion for the recovering community. Working with Magical Builders fit in exactly with what their mission is in this post-Katrina city.

"We couldn't do it without them. They've been amazing," Jon Frank said. "We were amazed by their story. The general manager had to sleep in his office for two months.

"They came back together (after evacuating when the storm hit) and they're doing everything they can to be a steward in the community and this is just one small example of what they are doing and what they hope to accomplish."

The second invaluable group -- and this is essential for any Magical Builders project to succeed -- are the volunteers. The Franks were very happy to team up with Hands On Network, an organization that provides volunteers for projects nationwide. They committed a large group of hard workers (AmeriCorps sent some volunteers as well) to come and do most of the labor necessary to make this a reality.

T.C. Kida is a project manager with Hands On now, though he prefers no titles to be used. Everyone is a volunteer. Kida came to the region just a few weeks after the storm, first to Biloxi and then here in New Orleans. He has not been back to his home state of Vermont since.

"No matter what you do, no matter how big or small, you're contributing to the effort," said Kida, who graduated from college last May. "A large portion of the recovery effort has been through volunteers.

"What New Orleans really needs are things of this nature, things that will bring people back. Not just schools, but after-school programs (like what the Boys & Girls Club provides). Working with Magical Builders has been great. They take care of all of the logistics, so we just have to come and do the work."

Rick Jackson calls Montgomery, Ala., his home. He works for the Boys & Girls Club there. Once he found about this project, he took vacation to come and help in the effort. It's a decision he did not have to think twice about.

"The Boys & Girls Club, we're a big family," Jackson said. "It was the right thing to do. It means a lot to me and to my family and to the city of New Orleans.

"This is incredible. All hands working as one. I'm just real happy about the situation. For someone like Magical Builders and the others to get together to help out the Club, I was excited. I'm enjoying the camaraderie, the people from all different places coming together for one cause, bringing the Boys & Girls Club back up to standards so kids can come and have fun."

That, in the end, is what motivates anyone who freely gives his or her time to come here. Knowing that the end result of all that work could directly impact the lives of people who have suffered more grief than most could ever imagine. "This is like coming back home, that's what Boys & Girls Club is," Jackson said. "It's like a home away from home. Having a redone club is going to be really exciting. It's like going back to Disney World. We just thank everybody for doing this."

Chances are, the Franks aren't looking for any thanks. The idea of bringing smiles to the faces of children here is a big reason why the Franks began their foundation in the first place.

"We want to get back here," Jon Frank said. "This facility is a home to about 200 kids a day. Having this place open is such a refuge for this children and it saves lives by keeping them off the street."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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