Ten years ago, my wife Luanne, daughter Camille and I were packing our bags the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. We were evacuating to a friend’s home in Lafayette. We loaded up our car and headed out of town. As we drove away, I wondered, will there be a lot of damage, to Kingsley House, our community, my home? How many days until we would be able to return home, two, three, perhaps maybe as long as a week? Evacuations for hurricanes occur periodically in Southeast Louisiana. We spent almost a week in Baton Rouge in 1998 for Hurricane Georges. But, I would have never imagined what was to happen next.
The events unfolded just a short 24 hours later right before our eyes on our television screens and our hearts broke. To the rest of the world, it probably seemed like a scary movie, but not to those of us from Southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. We watched our reality fall completely apart. We watched as our community was being destroyed and so many of our neighbors were suffering and dying. All of it totally incomprehensible, knowing we were forever changed and our future was uncertain.
Returning to the city in late September, just one month after the storm, felt unreal. It was like entering a war zone. There were heavily armed National Guard units and they were not letting everyone in. I remember what got my family and me through – they recognized my Kingsley House staff identification card. Yes, Kingsley House! Our community recognized us and needed us. We had always been there for the people of New Orleans. But, how in the world were we going to help get our community through this?
Only 30 Kingsley House staff members were able to return to the agency by early October, out of the 110 staff we had before the storm. Our campus sustained more than $4 million dollars in damages and we could only occupy less than half of our facilities, but we went to work anyway. Families needed us and that compelled us to move forward.
In October 2005, with extraordinary guidance, support and encouragement from the Kingsley House Board of Directors, we launched the region’s first Resettlement and Recovery Center to order cheap dapoxetine. We provided counseling, helped people replace missing vital documents and connected them to available public and private resources in the community. That November, we reopened our preschool and Adult Services programs, the first in the city to reopen after the storm. Our gymnasium, offices and conference rooms were transformed into early learning classrooms to meet the needs of returning families, while the preschool building began undergoing major repairs. We even provided care on Saturdays for children and youth of all ages and medically fragile adults and seniors, so families could take care of storm-related business and resettle. From where I sit, our Kingsley House staff is truly among the unsung heroes of our region’s recovery, constantly going above and beyond the call of duty, even while immersed in their own recovery, healing and rebuilding! Additionally, Kingsley House banded with fellow social services agencies, private foundation partners, United Way of Southeast LA and the State of Louisiana to form the Community Based Services Network to pool our scare resources and effectively work together to best meet the needs of tens of thousands of families throughout our recovering region. We also helped launch a number of other important collaborative initiatives such as the Unified Nonprofits of Greater New Orleans and the Greater New Orleans Disaster Recovery Partnership. Both of these partnerships were driven by the incredible tenacity of our non-profit sector and had an extraordinary impact on the recovery of our region. It was some of the hardest times we had ever faced, but the sense of community was stronger than ever.
Reflecting back 10 years later, this is what I remember most, and what I believe we showed the world about New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana. We have a deep and abiding love for our people, our city and our region. Our sense of civic pride, commitment, and community is, in my opinion, the strongest in the nation. Everyone came together to recover, heal and rebuild. We still face many challenges, but I know we can overcome them because, if Katrina taught us anything, it is that we are resilient, we are determined, and we can get through anything when we work together as a community.
Keith H. Liederman Ph.D.
CEO Kingsley House