It was late summer, 2005. I was 19, and home, anxiously awaiting my return to The Ohio State University for my sophomore year. We were still on quarters then, so I was always the last of my friends to head back to school in the fall, due to our late start. I was lonely. All my friends were back in their folds at school, but I was stuck home. My summer job as a lifeguard at the local country club pool had ended. Having had my fill of the sun that summer, I was watching a lot of TV.
On August 29, 2005, I remember watching, horrified, from our family TV as detrimental winds ripped through New Orleans, Louisiana. Power was knocked out and the water breached the levees. The levees that were supposed to protect this beautiful city. Help didn’t come. The water rose. And the wind blew, and the rains wouldn’t stop, and the water rose. Help did not come. And the water rose. And it just kept coming. The water kept coming, but help was not on the way. I watched with tears in my eyes and heat in my ears as the people of New Orleans cut holes into their roofs, to escape their homes that were filled with water. The heat was oppressive. The help was supposedly on the way. There was water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
I watched the TV screen as people piled into the Superdome, because it’s where officials, the help, had directed them. It was supposed to be safe, and they were supposed to have amenities for basic functions. That didn’t happen. It wasn’t safe. There were no amenities. People died. So many people died. People went missing. People are still missing. Devastation was everywhere. And I sat, in my parents house, watching it all unfold, in horror.
My first urge was to rent a Uhaul, and fill it with water and canned goods and drive it down there. No plans on how or when to return, or how to distribute the goods, just that it needed to happen. And it needed to happen NOW. My parents talked me down from that ledge.
My second urge was to drive down there and offer myself up to the Red Cross. Let me help. I have hands and feet, and a beautiful brain. Let me help you. I can help. I want to help. My parents talked me down from that as well.
My third urge was to empty my savings into the Red Cross. Take my money. I don’t need it as much as the people of New Orleans do. Just take it. I can earn it again, they need it now.
So I did. I donated a butt-load of money to the Red Cross that summer. I pressed the submit button on their website, but didn’t have any sense of relief whatsoever. My parents assured me that what I did was good. It would be helpful. There was a niggling irritation in my soul from that day forward, that I hadn’t done enough. I was disappointed in myself. I didn’t know how to fix it.
It was the summer of 2008, I had just graduated college, the world was my oyster, and OSU President E. Gordon Gee had assured my graduating class that we were all, “On the cusp of greatness!”
Then my roommate moved out and left me alone, with no car, internet or TV, my cell phone was stolen while we were out one night, my full time job at a local non-profit fell through, and my boyfriend of the last two years made out with another girl at a bar to make it easier to dump me, “I’m afraid I’ll hold you back.” He said. “Fuck you and everything you stand for.” I wish I had said.
Ohio did it’s best to squeeze me out. The inevitable fate was sealed: I was to move back home, into my parents house, at the end of my lease in the beginning of July.
Mom called at some point during my downward spiral, and asked if I wanted to take a service trip down to New Orleans with a local non-profit that a friend of her coworkers had started. I acquiesced mainly due to my dwindling will to stand up for anything, much less myself and my own decisions at that point.
Much to my Mom’s chagrin, and my amazement, that trip to New Orleans, in August 2008 changed my life. My Mom and I have gone every summer since, except last summer, 2016, because: wedding planning. This non-profit is a registered 501(c)3: Partnerships in Education & Service (PIES). We travel with a team, or rendez-vous (while I was living in Florida) down in New Orleans for a week of service each and every summer.
On our very first trip with PIES, we learned that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the New Orleans area essentially closed a great many of the schools and fired most of the teachers. How could they continue school when so many of them were so badly damaged and some still under water? Who would they teach, since so many of the children were displaced, relocated or missing? The public schooling system was not great, prior to Katrina, and so as rebuilding began, the Charter School system was born into the New Orleans area. It has proven to be quite a good fit for this area of the country! (Trust me the whole charter school debate is huge and I don’t agree that it’s a good fit for everywhere but here it works so just trust me on this have I ever steered you wrong?)
The work I have done, with PIES has been life changing. After a few summers, my Dad got tired of hearing about how much fun we were having, and started coming along on trips. Martin will be on his third trip this July with us. It’s a family affair, and I wouldn’t trade it for a second. In my soul, I feel as though I’m making up for lost time. Lost time since the summer when I had to really fight my urge to devote my life to the people of New Orleans. Now, I can work to fulfill that urge each and every year. Fear not, PIES will be there soon!
This July, we’re working to build a garden for an elementary school in the Lower 9th Ward. This is the area hit hardest by Katrina, back in 2005, and is still working to rebuild 12 years later. We’re working with local vendors to have a lot of materials donated for this project, but could really use some help for additional supplies and water for our group of 20 volunteers. Please consider donating, on our GoFundMe page. Any amount helps, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, in advance!!