• Who is he? Physical plant supervisor for Christopher Homes, Inc. (CHI); parishioner of St. Rosalie, Harvey; member of St. Anthony Church, Lafitte, KC; graduate of Immaculate Conception Elementary, Archbishop Shaw High (1976) and Jefferson Parish Vo-Tech School; married for 32 years to Greta Rolland DesRoches; three children; recipient of the 2007 Caring Hands Award from the Gulf States Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, an annual distinction that recognizes elder care professionals who go beyond the call of duty in their service to seniors.
• How did he start working for CHI? DesRoches did gardening and odd jobs at Wynhoven Apartments in Marrero as a 16-year-old. In 1986, after a six-year stint doing oil field work, he was asked to come on as Wynhoven’s assistant maintenance supervisor, a position he held for 16 years. He was promoted to physical plant supervisor in 2002 and is CHI’s longest-tenured employee.
• What are his responsibilities? The Harvey resident works closely with architects, engineers and contractors on projects related to CHI’s 16 operating properties and its sites that are undergoing post-Katrina reconstruction. DesRoches is frequently called on to explain the special demands of senior housing, such as accessibility, nurse-call systems and other security requirements. “I have to explain to the architects how these properties function so they know how to design the building. They’re used to dealing with commercial properties, or a lot of times they assume it’s a nursing home. It’s nota nursing home; it’s an apartment building.” DesRoches is also responsible for lining up contractors for major repair jobs at the various properties, calling on his long list of local experts.
• Katrina Story No. 1: As one of the few CHI employees whose home was relatively undamaged by the hurricane, DesRoches immediately began doing post-Katrina damage assessments on CHI properties and made himself available 24/7 to guide residents through shuttered properties so they could retrieve their belongings. “It was an adventure to go through those buildings. Picture a huge apartment building, closed for months. (Our residents) basically left everything, thinking they’d be back home in a few days.”
• Katrina Story No. 2: DesRoches led and assisted the volunteer groups that streamed into the city to gut homes and haul debris. His first helpers – a group of Mennonites – arrived at St. John Berchmans Manor dressed in a manner that didn’t seem practical, given the extreme heat. “They were so nice and they worked so hard – they didn’t stop,” DesRoches recalls. “They put wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow into that dumpster, laughing and giggling the whole time and never complaining for three months.”
• Katrina Story No. 3: While leading HUD officials on a damage assessment of St. Martin Manor, DesRoches thought he heard a baby crying. His flashlight revealed the real source: an orange kitten with a fluffy tail. “I thought it would be feral, but the cat was so darn gentle I said, ‘I’m gonna bring this cat home.’” Originally thinking the male kitten was a female, DesRoches named him Katrina. The name stuck.
• What is the biggest misconception about seniors? “People think the elderly all seem the same, but if you talk to them you find out about all the interesting things they did before they retired.”
• Who is his role model? His mother. “She watches the daily Mass (on WLAE) and prays the rosary every morning before breakfast.”
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Interviewed by Beth Donze