He flew back to New Hampshire to tie up his former life, then returned to St Bernard Parish, LA, just outside New Orleans, in February 2006. Living first in a tent, and later in a FEMA trailer (a place he still calls home) Iray brought together returning residents to found the nonprofit Community Center of St Bernard. After extensive renovation of a Katrina-damaged building, the Center opened its doors in January 2007 with Iray as the unpaid fulltime volunteer Executive Director, a position he still holds.
When Iray helped to found the Community Center, he intended to provide a “one-stop shop” where St Bernard residents could receive free, local access to essential recovery resources from across the greater New Orleans area. By making vital services available to residents here in their own county, the Community Center facilitates the ability of local families to both become aware of and have access to the help they need as they work to rebuild their lives and their communities.
Six years have now passed since the Community Center was founded, and under Iray’s guidance it has grown into one of the premier recovery resource providers in the greater New Orleans area. When the Gulf Oil Spill threatened the livelihoods of coastal St Bernard residents during 2010, the Center was there to help immediately with food, clothes, information, referrals, and emotional support .
In just the past year:
• The Center’s Food Pantry has given out 263,634 lbs of food to 4,351 unduplicated low-income individuals.
• Office staff have passed out 9,816 flyers, brochures and pamphlets to help families find the help they need. They've also made 4,778 referrals.
• 159 people have signed up for the Community Center’s free computer classes
• The Clothing Bank has been accessed 11,224 times.
• 1,850 people have received assistance in applying for the federal Food Stamps program
• 141 senior citizens have received information about the federal SCSEP training program for low-income seniors.
• 5,408 free books have been given out in the Center’s reading area.
• And the Center’s media lab (internet computers, public phones, fax & copying services) has been used 3,889 times.
Iray’s success in turning the Community Center of St Bernard from a simple vision into a real bricks-and-mortar facility where thousands of families come for practical assistance with the problems they face is a shining example of the difference that one individual can make in the lives of those around him.