Ten Years!

Written August 27th, 2015

More Hope, More Joy, More Peace More Love. First Parish TShirt“Where were you 10 years ago?”  At 10 o’clock this morning, we were part of the crew that kicked off St Bernard Project’s 48 hour Katrina10 build, and this was the icebreaker question our site supervisor asked us.  I know where I was – at home, transfixed listening to NPR, waiting to see if the storm would hit New Orleans, and then listening in the days that followed as the tragedy unfolded.  The second part of the icebreaker was “Why are you here?” That answer was easy too.  Sometime during the week after the storm, I remember hearing an interview of a woman in New Orleans saying that America didn’t care about the people of New Orleans and that  country had just abandoned them.  Given what I heard on the news, I certainly understood why she felt that way. That day, I wished there was something I could do to let her know that there were a lot of us out there who wanted  to help, but didn’t know how.  In 2009, I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans.  I jumped at the chance  to make sure that I could show at least one person, even though it wouldn’t be the woman from the interview,  that not everyone in America was ready to abandon them.   I have come back every year since.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Katrina hit, especially when you drive through some of the neighborhoods that still aren’t back.   At our orientation at SBP in April, they estimated that they were at the halfway point in the recovery process.  Ten years down, ten years to go.   SBP, and other recovery groups, know that as each year passes it will get harder to get donations and volunteers.  The French Quarter and the Garden District are back, and that is what most people who come as tourists see.  SBP decided to do a 48 hour non-stop build this August to try to raise enough money to build 48 houses. When our volunteer coordinator told us about the 48 hour build on our April trip, Ellen and I knew we wanted to be here, and be a part of the build. Every time we come down, we meet more people and hear their stories. It has become personal for us.

I wasn’t here for Katrina, and I know that the remembrances this week will be very different for those who lived through it.  The anniversary will be important for those of us who only came to New Orleans afterwards too though.  While a part of me will remember all too well the anger and the helplessness I felt watching the government response during the immediate aftermath of the storm, I will be focused on the things I have  experienced since Katrina.  I will be remembering 10+ houses, one church and one food pantry I have worked on over the last 8 and half years.  I will be remembering the adult and high school youth that I may never have spent time with if it wasn’t for these trips.  I will be remembering about all the Americorp volunteers we have worked with over the years, and how impressed we have been with all of them. I will be remembering the city and the people that we have come to know, and the friends we have made that we never would have done if we had just been tourists. I’m thrilled to be here to represent the hundreds of thousands of volunteers from all over who have played such a big part in bringing back the forgotten parts of the city – the part of America that didn’t abandon the people of New Orleans.

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