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SBP and the National WWII Museum Welcome Home WWII Veteran

To Mr. Frederick Lonozo, family and music are everything. Even at 99 years old, he still gets up and cuts the rug when listening to his son, an accomplished musician in New Orleans and band member at Preservation Hall, play the jazz trombone. His joy for life and a good tune is sweetened by the company of any one of his eight children, one of whom, his daughter Lea, is caring for him in his later years. For Lea, caring for her father has proved challenging, since both Hurricane Katrina and Ida severely damaged their family home and drained Mr. Lonzo’s retirement savings. But Mr. Lonzo is resilient, a trait that all U.S. Veterans share.

Mr. Lonzo served in the U.S. Army from 1943-1945 during WWII. When he returned home from service, he married his wife, Mary, and then found work at Boeing, where he became the first Black Union Representative for the company. The couple became first-time homebuyers in 1969, after the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale of housing. Lea, still remembers the day she came home from high school and found her parents celebrating their last mortgage payment – a historic moment for their family.

It was in this humble two-bedroom home that they raised all eight children until it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leaving it totally uninhabitable. Taking action, Mr. Lonzo relocated his family to Tennessee while he traveled back and forth between states to manage the repairs. FEMA issued them a modest assistance award, which he used to hire a contractor. But halfway through the repairs, the contractor stole all the rebuild materials, tools, and funds given to him and was never seen again. Despite the unfinished kitchen, missing drywall, unpainted walls, and absent baseboards, Mr. Lonzo eventually moved his family back home out of necessity. This is a reflection of the decision that many survivors are forced to make – living in substandard conditions due to the inability to afford rent and the cost of rebuilding in tandem.

The Lonzo family is one of the many who suffer contractor fraud during disaster recovery, which is why SBP provides contractor fraud prevention education to fight against the unethical practice. Contractor fraud takes recovery funds away from vulnerable populations who do not have access to resources to otherwise address their situation. When recovery funds and personal savings are drained, families are left living in inhospitable conditions that drove them away from their homes in the first place. Living in these conditions and in a prolonged state of recovery can have long-term side effects on human health, such as respiratory illness due to exposure to black mold, and mental health consequences such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression as they are forced to live in the remains of their once safe and secure homes.

On August 29th, 2021, Mr. Lonzo’s home was hit again, this time by Hurricane Ida, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina. The winds tore a hole in his roof, exacerbating the damage inside, and reversing many of the repairs he and his family had managed to make in the years after Hurricane Katrina. His story had long gone unheard until SBP met Mr. Lonzo and his family. After approving his application, our team reached out to the National WWII Museum, whose leadership and staff personally volunteered their time to help rebuild the Lonzo home. Mr. C.P. Hilliard, a former board member of the Museum and a WWII veteran himself, made this project possible by providing the necessary funding for the rebuild, along with Mr. Arthur Price and Mr. David Etienne of Badger Oil. Now that the project is complete, Mr. Lonzo may live out the rest of his days in peace and security, as all of our nation’s veterans deserve.

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Kristin Emmet, SBP’s Community Engagement Manager in New Orleans, speaks on the value of this collaboration: “We are grateful to be a part of Mr. Lonzo’s return home and thank the National WWII Museum and Mr. Hilliard for their partnership. Many members of the public don’t realize that survivors are still recovering from Katrina 17 years later and that the damage is worsened by recent storms like Hurricane Ida one year ago. It should never take this long for our veterans or the most vulnerable members of our community to return home after a disaster. That’s why SBP is here to stay for the long-term; to shrink the time between disaster and recovery and rebuild homes resiliently so families can withstand the storms to come.”

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To learn more about SBP’s work supporting veterans in disaster-impacted communities, read about the Got-Your-Back-Fund. SBP’s Got Your Back Fund, made possible by generous support from Viatris, prioritizes repairs and rebuilding for low-income, disaster-impacted veterans, ensuring they never have to wait to rebuild their homes. For America’s heroes, a predictable path forward can mean the difference between reaching their breaking point and successful, long-term recovery. Thank you Viatris for your generous founding support.