Sunday, December 26, 2010



The last time Matt Sloan saw Sylvia Blanchard’s house — the house he and his Episcopal volunteer crews reclaimed from a stinking post-Katrina wreck — the Blanchards were back in and it was neat, tight, clean and smelling new. But it was raw, too, in the way of new construction. No greenery, no shade from the June sun, no landscaping to soften the hard angles of its little lot a few blocks off Franklin Avenue in Gentilly.

Two things have changed since: The little front yard is sodded. Gardens are planted. There’s a small fountain out back. Young palms and crape myrtles hold the promise of grace and shade

Or, if his family and friends can make it happen, the beginning of his legacy, which is to build a small organization that will continue to landscape the homes of New Orleans flood victims — “to feed the souls” of families whose every penny went into hard construction costs, leaving their rebuilt homes barren outside.

And at 29, Sloan has died.

The plantings are his legacy.

That “feed the souls” line was his, the way he described what he wanted to continue doing in New Orleans, said his mother, Judy, from Sloan’s native North Carolina.

Matt’s Trees, an organization formed in his memory, is raising money to continue residential plantings around New Orleans the way he had planned, his mother said.
Like thousands of others, Sloan was a Katrina volunteer so moved by his first trips into the flood zone that it changed his life.

He moved from North Carolina to New Orleans in January and worked for six months for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana as a construction crew chief, supervising volunteers being cycled in and out of the city. Mostly he supervised the rebuilding of Blanchard’s home for herself and her bedridden husband, Anthony.

By March, his mother said, Sloan had decided to remain in New Orleans and seek grants for low-cost, last-stage landscaping that might put the final aesthetic touches on someone’s long journey home.

By many accounts, including Sylvia Blanchard’s, who grew close to him, Sloan was an exceptional spirit. A big guy: gregarious, alive, welcoming, passionate, with a continuously expanding circle of friends.

“Big heart,” said Blanchard.

“At his death at 29, he had more friends than most people make in a lifetime,” said Judy Sloan.

Sloan died of heatstroke June 13 at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn.

As I read the story and wrote the post, I had tears in my eyes. Matt felt the pull of New Orleans, and decided to move there, as have a surprising number volunteers who worked in the city after Katrina and the federal flood. It's the same strong pull that I feel after over 50 years of living away from my beloved home town.

Matt's was a good life cut off too soon, but he passed away surrounded by the music he loved. He will live long in memory for for the good he accomplished during his all-too-brief time on this earth.


Landscape 100 renovated homes with native trees and plants.

Restore 30 city blocks of "streetscape" by installing native trees.

Recruit and educate 600 volunteers from church and school groups.

Establish a presence in New Orleans for continuation of this effort.

The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and Hike for KaTREEna will partner with Matt's Trees in the project.

I asked you, my readers, to vote for Jericho Road, a community organization sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana in the contest to win fruit trees for planting in community gardens in vacant lots in New Orleans, and you did, and you helped Jericho Road to win.

Now, once again, I ask you to vote for Matt's Trees in a contest to win $50,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project. As of now, Matt's Trees is far behind in the vote, but we can help them catch up and move ahead. The voting ends on December 31, so please vote today and once a day, every day, until the vote ends. We did it once; let's do it again!

Donate to Matt's Trees here.


  1. Ann, did you register? You have to register to vote.

  2. Ann, will you try now that I've installed the widget?

  3. Ann, I voted successfully on my computer and Tom voted successfully on the other computer just now.

  4. I used your widget and went to vote. As you said, I had to register. Then I shared it on Facebook. I had not looked to see if you linked this post to Facebook. You might want to, Mimi as your friends might be different from mine!

  5. Oh, wait a minute! I did not use the widget. It wasn't there when I voted. Never mind, I managed to vote without it :-)

  6. About to go vote. Thank you, Mimi.

  7. Susan, thank you. I posted a link to my blog at FB, but I will post the widget, too. Good idea.

    However, it worked, I'm glad you were able to vote. Tom voted through the widget.

    PJ, thanks.

  8. I also like the Youtube. It unfortunately does not have a link at Youtube for the voting process, but it's a little late for that now.

  9. Voted -- will vote again tomorrow if I can.

  10. I have voted and posted it on Twitter.

  11. Chelliah, thank you, thank you, thank you for your vote and for the Twitter post. I don't Tweet, so I can't use that forum to promote Matt's Trees.


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