No matter where the day takes us, most of us always know that our bed awaits us that evening. This is a luxury that many families in New Orleans still do not have. Ten years later, destruction and disaster from Hurricane Katrina still sits at the center of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it submerged 80% of the city and affected over fifteen million people. The natural disaster caused over eighty-one billion dollars in property damages, causing more than one million people to suffer from immediate displacement. One month after Hurricane Katrina struck, 600,000 households still lacked housing. People across the nation saw the devastation and reacted by sending resources, raising money, and volunteering. We at The Road Less Traveled saw an opportunity to serve an overwhelmed community.
The Stein family traveled down to New Orleans, three months after the disaster to offer whatever help they could and work to establish The Gulf Coast program that has now been successfully returning each year for ten years. Seeing the destruction first hand was sobering and memorable for the entire family.
“Even years later, vivid snapshots stick in my mind from my first walk along the gulf after the hurricane. The entire coast was decimated, teddy bears and rings laid among the rubble, memories that belonged to someone somewhere, but that had been cast aside by Hurricane Katrina. Fear and sadness permeated the foundations of each torn up house we passed, no one in sight. Graffitied walls read, “KEEP OUT” and as the fog rolled in off the water we drove to our first site to help restore houses that had been flooded. It would have been easy to let the hushed sadness seep into us, to let a feeling of despair take hold. Yet when we arrived at the house, sunshine burst out of the family that lived there. The children were playing outside in the yard with beaming faces, the neighbors came by to say hello and thank you, everyone we met infused us with hope and light. We learned just how resilient and caring the people of New Orleans are that day and knew we could make a difference.”
Cathy Liebowitz returned 10 years later this past June with a group of Road Less Traveled students to meet one of these resilient New Orleanians, Connie Uddo, Hike For KaTREEna’s executive director. Connie opened her house to the community as a place of refuge immediately following Hurricane Katrina despite the fact that the first floor of her house had flooded. Today, she works with various local organizations to restore green spaces around New Orleans and plant trees. Hike For KaTREEna hopes to plant 52,000 trees by 2018. This summer RLT participants added to Connie’s already 30,000 planted trees by planting another 24 fig trees at a new regional food hub.
Today, New Orleans families still suffer from homelessness and poor living conditions. Ms. Dorothy, a hardworking New Orleans woman, tried to fix her house but experienced contractor fraud, which forced her to live in unsafe living conditions for the last 10 years. However, with the St. Bernard Project’s assistance, she has now been able to move back home and enjoy a much-deserved bath. RLT participants have worked on multiple SBP houses to help bring families back home over the years. Though there has been ongoing work since Hurricane Katrina hit ten years ago, SBP predicts it will take another ten years of recovery to bring New Orleans back to it’s healthy vibrant self. The Road Less Traveled is committed to continue to return to New Orleans to see the job through. We will return year after year for summers full of service, laughs, delicious food, and the company of new friends. Nothing compares to the true sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from working alongside homeowners and conservationists who have dedicated their lives to saving this great city and its natural habitats.
– Cathy Liebowitz