Since 1990, our roots have been planted in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, LA and we remain actively committed to redeveloping that neighborhood following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in
August 2005. Today, we are grateful to God to also be able to replicate that work in other pockets of poverty through the United States.
FOUNDED IN 1990
Desire Street Ministries was founded in 1990 when Mo and Ellen Leverett moved into the neighborhood surrounding the Desire Housing Project in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, often rated one of the worst in the nation for crime, drugs and proverty. Built on a garbage dump, the area had become home to poor African American immigrants and, left underserved in terms of city resources, it quickly fell into disrepair.
A self-described “white guy from Macon, GA”, he and Ellen integrated the neighborhood and Mo began to coach football at Carver High School in order to reach the kids. By hosting countless Bible studies in their home, the community gradually got to know the Leveretts, who worked together with their neighbors to improve the area while God began to change hearts.
Through God’s grace, the ministry was able to locate and purchase a large tract of land at 3600 Desire Parkway, and began hosting recreational activities as well as providing afterschool tutoring. But more was needed. Kids were able to pass the ACT exam to get into college, but were not able to survive in the college educational system.
So in 2002, the ministry opened Desire Street Academy for African American junior and senior high males, in a new multi-purpose ministry, school and recreation facility built on the same property.
CHANGED BY GOD IN 2005
Few people have not heard of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans’ levees broke, Desire Street Ministries was submerged in eight feet of murky water and the community around it was scattered across the Southeast and beyond. Several of DSA’s students lost friends and family members in the storm, but all of “our kids” were located in the days following the storm. Most wanted to continue their education at DSA and so families entrusted their children to our round-the-clock care at a temporary boarding school facility set up at a 4-H Camp in Timpoochee, FL in the panhandle of FL. The flooding destroyed almost all DSM’s computer systems and records as well, so a tempory office was set up in donated space in Destin, FL.
Meanwhile, staff whose homes suffered the least damage began cleanup activities in New Orleans. The steel facility at Desire Parkway was basically intact, and so with some initial gutting, it quickly became home to volunteers, over 1500 in a one-year period, who gave their time and energy to cleaning up and gutting over 100 homes and area properties.
But neighbors were slow to return home. City building permits and government funding were slow in coming. Many of the residents could not afford insurance, so they had no resources to rebuild. Without a local residence in New Orleans, they were unable to get jobs, and without jobs, they were unable to re-build their residences.
So Desire Street Ministries partnered with area residents to establish a community development corporation for renovating and building new homes in the neighborhood. Today, CDC 58:12 has a long waiting line of neighbors who are eager for assistance as resources permit. The CDC also provides homebuyers’ training and financial education for the residents it serves. Slowly, the neighborhood is becoming a desirable place to live.
Danny Wuerffel was named Executive Director of Desire Street Ministries when founder Mo Leverett resigned in 2006. Under Danny’s leadership, God has brought a team of gifted leaders together to accomplish His purposes in ministering to the poor. (Please click here to read more about God’s heart for the poor.)
In New Orleans, we are making full use of the Desire Parkway facility, once again hosting after-school tutoring, youth recreation activities, and multiple local church and community activities. We hope to fully renovate the facility as funds allow.
Desire Street Academy found a landing place in the East Brookstown neighborhood of Baton Rouge, LA for the 2006-2007 school year. Having opened its doors to the Baton Rouge community as well, it has now found a permanent home there. New Orleans students remain in dormitories during the week, returning home to New Orleans on the weekends.
Many people have a difficult time seeing the blessing in something as disastrous as Hurricane Katrina. But because DSM was forced out of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, it began its originally planned replication in other pockets of poverty in the southeastern United States and beyond. As a result, St. Roch Community Church was established in the Eighth Ward of New Orleans, and DSM partnered with Common Ground Montgomery to reach the Washington Park area of Montgomery, AL. If funds allow, plans are in place to partner with other urban ministries in the coming year to bolster work in other major cities as well.
Our small business office remained in Destin, FL for almost three years in order to rebuild the necessary systems, but has now relocated back office operations to Atlanta, GA. For many reasons, this was deemed the best location for continued replication and strengthening of Louisiana-based ministry works.
To say the least, God has been faithful to protect and use Desire Street Ministries for His purposes, and we give Him all the glory.