2015-08-28

Written by Janae Babineaux, Senior AmeriCorps Member serving on the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation Team at Winbourne Elementary School.

City Year is the kind of work that feeds your soul in a way that is both fulfilling and humbling; where ordinary people are just lending a helping hand to their neighbor, to their brothers and sisters, to humanity. A decade ago, Louisiana began to hear these sentiments ring true.

Just 90 days after Hurricane Katrina hit, City Year arrived in Louisiana. The devastation of Katrina was and still remains unquantifiable; a disaster that sent thousands scrambling for life and annihilated a city that so many called home. The flooding touched nearly every part of New Orleans, and to this day has left many picking up the pieces. For years after, many Louisianans were consumed with loss. But their resilience to rebuild was met with many gracious hearts.

Raised in Baton Rouge, current CYBR corps member Nicole Shaw was born in East New Orleans, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina. After the mandatory evacuation was given, she recalls how her cousins were "stubborn and decided they would wait it out". She lost those cousins to the storm that weekend. Her family here in Baton Rouge actually had to evacuate their own home because of a roof leak, but she poignantly stated that she felt lucky because "they had a place to go home to.” Like so many others, her childhood home, now flattened, lies on a street that has yet to be rebuilt in New Orleans. 

I sat down with Patrick Lawler, a Baton Rouge native and a current corps member with CYBR. Patrick spoke about how when he thinks back to Katrina, he remembers his father. His father is a doctor at Woman's Hospital here in Baton Rouge and when the babies in New Orleans were evacuated, they came to Woman's. His father would come home from work and tell the family how surreal it was to have black hawks landing on the helipads with newborns. As we talked more and more, we both agreed that neither he nor I understood the magnitude of the situation at the time; even for years to come. In hindsight, he said that naïvely he would think, "Wow! Black hawks! Cool." But now, a decade later Patrick notes, "It is much more somber for me now that I'm older and I understand the scope of things."

I couldn't agree with Patrick more. I remember the images that would flash across the screen and I remember the new students at school. I remember being scared when my father had to travel to New Orleans just days after the storm to deliver drinking water. But it is now. And now that we are days away from the 10th anniversary of this great tragedy, I feel the most heart-broken, the most grief-stricken. It is now that I feel the most responsibility to give back to a community that has lost so much. More than one should in a lifetime.

On the anniversary of the storm, City Year Baton Rouge and City Year New Orleans will reunite and join hundreds of other residents and volunteers in Katrina 10 service events, organized by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the Katrina 10 team, to commemorate the recovery and renaissance of New Orleans. My wish is that Saturday serves as a reminder for those who lost, for those who came to help, and for a city with so much soul that was determined to sing again.

In the wake of great tragedy, New Orleans was reacquainted with one of City Year’s favorite ideas, the idea of Ubuntu. Ubuntu, roughly translated, means “human kindness,” but more often is known philosophically as “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” To this day, the devastation of Katrina is immeasurable. Those compelled to provide aid come bearing hope and lend helping hands to those whose resilience could not be stifled. They unite through their human connectedness and aspire to create transformation and recovery. In the Crescent City, a new day has dawned. A decade later we find ourselves united with many of the same volunteers who lent their hands and their hearts to a city in need. Katrina 10 tells the story of New Orleans’ strength, and serves to underscore all the work that shall continue in Southern Louisiana. 

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