A little more than a year ago, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast region, destroying countless homes and lives. While much of the region is still in recovery, there are signs of significant rebuilding – thanks in part to the tile industry.

Tile Partners for Humanity issued a call for materials, labor and training for Habitat projects in early 2006 – and boy, did folks respond. Industry members have donated for 91 Habitat for Humanity homes in six communities – Jackson, MS; Bay St. Louis, MS; Gulfport, MS; Gautier, MS; New Orleans, LA, and Houston, TX.

An AmeriCorps member working with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, LA, installs backerboard donated by James Hardie Building Products in this Habitat home.

In two communities, industry members taught volunteers to install tile in the Habitat homes. With this training, volunteers and Habitat staff members are better able to tile homes on their own as industry members continue to donate materials for the projects.

In New Orleans, Jack LeBlanc of Laticrete International worked with 10 Habitat staff members and AmeriCorps members in May. Inside the “Louisiana House,” which serves as volunteer lodging for Habitat’s regular volunteers in New Orleans, LeBlanc used Laticrete setting materials to install material donated by Orchid Ceramics and James Hardie Building Products.

On donating for hurricane relief projects, Laticrete North American President Ed Metcalf said, “We have people there that were affected by the storms, people who themselves are involved in rebuilding on a very personal level. We’re committed to rebuilding so that all of the people of this historic and beautiful place can come home and help it to regain its characteristic strength and unique vitality.”

Billy Puckett, a site superintendent for New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, watches Jack LeBlanc of Laticrete International demonstrate tile installation in a home in New Orleans, LA.

Orchid Ceramics donated tile for ten homes in New Orleans and Laticrete and James Hardie Building Products donated setting materials and Hardibacker tile backerboard. NATTCO donated tile tools. Laticrete has also donated materials for multiple homes in Jackson, Gulfport, and Gautier, MS.

Bay St. Louis, situated in nearby Hancock County, MS, is quite a contrast to New Orleans. Where New Orleans is a much larger and metropolitan area, Hancock County is so rural that there is no individual Habitat affiliate serving it. As a result, Habitat in Jackson, MS, is coordinating all projects relating to Habitat for Humanity’s hurricane-relief efforts. Hancock County was also one of the hardest-hit areas during last year’s storm.

In early October, Custom Building Products New Orleans-area Territory Manager Scott Nalesnik coordinated and led an installation training session for AmeriCorps members in Bay St. Louis. Nalesnik and CBP Technical Service Representatives David Segura of Little Rock, AR, and Vann Clayton of Birmingham, AL, worked with volunteers for three days to install tile in four of the five homes. Nalesnik, a New Orleans resident, reflected on what it was like to help:

“Living outside of New Orleans for all of my life, you take everything for granted around you. When Katrina hit, we went from Beaumont, TX, to Lake Charles, LA, and finally wound up in Thibodaux, LA. For three and a half weeks, we could not return to our homes. In the weeks after returning home the things that you take for granted like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and gas stations were not open…These were the things we had to deal with but they are minor compared to the people who had nothing to come back to. Spending time at the Habitat homes was really great. We made new friends with the volunteer workers, who never complained and were always willing to work. The joy that we are bringing on the Gulf Coast to families who have lost everything is impossible to explain.”

Shannon Bielat and Allison Crowe, two AmeriCorps members working with Habitat for Humanity in Bay St. Louis, MS, grout a newly-tiled floor during an installation training session led by Custom Building Products.

John McMullen, executive vice president for Custom Building Products, echoed Nalesnik’s enthusiasm for helping to rebuild along the Gulf Coast:

“When there is devastation the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina, it is important for everyone to donate whatever resources we have, whether it is goods and materials, time and talent, or financial support.  I am proud that Custom was able to provide all of these to Tile Partners for Humanity, helping with the massive effort to rebuild the ravaged Gulf Coast and return families to their homes.”

To date, the Hancock County affiliate has built or started ten homes, nine of which will be tiled. Orchid Ceramics donated tile for the first five homes and Custom Building Products donated Wonderboard, setting materials, tile tools and grout sealers for the project.

Jack LeBlanc of Laticrete International shows Habitat volunteers how to lay out tile over backerboard in a home in New Orleans, LA.

Tile Partners for Humanity is a partnership between the tile industry and Habitat for Humanity that coordinates donations of tile materials, installation labor and training for Habitat projects. The nonprofit organization is guided by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, Ceramic Tile Institute of America, National Tile Contractors Association, TheTile Doctor.com, Tile Council of North America, and Tile Heritage Foundation.

For more information on upcoming projects, please contact TPFH Executive Director Allyson Fertitta at 770-416-0200 or