In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina landed ferociously in the Gulf Coast areas, nearly 23,000 men, women and children were transported from New Orleans via school buses to Reliant Park in Houston, Texas.
I have to admit that Houston, as a city, did an incredible job working with Katrina survivors in the Reliant Park, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and across the city serving so many with dire needs. For over two weeks, along with many many other dedicated volunteers, my husband and I spent time helping in various areas of the Dome. Our work ranged from sitting and listening to families, accompanying elders to obtain prescriptions, to helping orienting shift volunteers within our group. We did whatever was needed of us at the time.
“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”- Lily Tomlin
During that time I was very fortunate to work closely with highly regarded Geriatric Physicians and a team of nurses, social workers, case managers, physician assistants in developing a tool and protocol in assisting the elders in the Dome. This project was later published as Recommendation for Best Practices in Management of Elder Disaster Victims.
In 2005 we knew that American Psychological Association (APA) of which my husband is a member, was planning its 2006 Annual Convention in New Orleans. We had hopped and were happy to learn later that APA would hold the convention in New Orleans as planned. We knew this was a way to return to our beloved New Orleans to support this community once again. APA annual conventions are regularly attended by nearly 10,000 professionals and as far as we were concerned, this was good news for New Orleans.
In 2006, the APA convention was held in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center where many of the survivors we helped were trapped for days. This was our first trip back since the horrific hurricane that took and shattered so many lives. Though it was a bittersweet feeling to be in that very building, we felt it was important to make the best of our trip. The convention scheduled excellent speakers, exhibits, workshops as well as events and activities. Dr. Zimbardo, Dr. Bandura, Dr. Sueand Dr. Phil, are a few examples. We also attended a fundraiser with Bill Cosby which benefited the schools in New Orleans. There was also an uplifting traditional Jazz music performance that celebrated the spirit of New Orleans. It was truly an experience to remember.
Spending $$ in New Orleans was, and still is, a part of rebuilding the community. We visited with shop owners and learned about how they survived and why they came back to New Orleans. Once a lively city always full of vibrant spirits, colorful festivities and lively culture was not so much so at the time of our visit in August 2006. Truly it broke our hearts and at the time, we did notice that many of the shops were still out of business and the damage by Katrina from a year prior was still obvious and painfully visible.
We cannot go to New Orleans without a visit to the famous Cafe Du Monde. Normally, this place is packed with tourists, full of life– and if you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know what I am talking about. However, that day, again, it was sad to see only a few customers (most likely other convention attendees) along with the two of us. (The picture below was taken by another APA convention attendee.) We also visited, for the first time, the famous Mother’s restaurant and boy was the food delicious- um.. umm!! They are famous for their traditional breakfasts and Po-Boys. We recommend the “debris” Po-Boy (no, the name is not in reference to Katrina).
During the trip, we knew deep down that our work in New Orleans was not complete. We knew we needed to do more- we just didn’t know how and when. Later that year (serendipity?) we came across an advertisement on TV about volunteer work completed by Catholic Charities’ “Operations Helping Hands” Program in New Orleans. We jumped on this opportunity to give our time and effort once again. In November 2006, my husband recruited nearly 30 college students to volunteer with us during the Thanksgiving Holidays.
Please do stay tuned for Part 3 of our series as we unfold our trip to New Orleans with these students and our daughter. It was an amazing experience for us and for them.
Thanks again so much for taking the time to read this post and remember, New Orleans still needs you!
We respectfully dedicate this series of blog posts to the Men and Women who tirelessly participate in recovery efforts during many natural or man-made disasters in the USA and abroad–and to the victims and survivors of those events. You are our heroes and your work inspire us to take action, and be a part of the solution, not the problem!