Two years have passed since Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans and many southern cities in the United States. The hurricane is considered one of the worst to ever hit this country.
On Aug. 29, 2005 and the days following, the hurricane killed more than 2,000 people and left more than 800,000 homeless.
And although efforts to rebuild homes and businesses have created more substantial accommodations, New Orleans still needs help.
“The need is still so overwhelming, so obvious,” said Fort Collins Habitat for Humanities Special Programs Manager Andrea Bean. “There has been a lot of progress, but there is so much that still needs to be done.”
More than 1,000 people are still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers and only a fraction of the 18 elementary schools have reopened, making them the most populated in the nation, Bean said.
“Many of the children are still living in FEMA trailers,” she said. “They don’t have places to play.”
Bean and 142 other volunteers made their way to New Orleans last April to help reconstruct and remodel ruined homes. The experience was both emotional and inspiring, she said.
“Amidst the devastation, it’s a rewarding feeling as well,” Bean said. “There are so many amazing people there.”
Bean has visited New Orleans three times, and her third trip impacted her in an unexpected way.
“I felt like I was doing exactly what I am meant to do,” she said.
She has recently put in her notice at Habitat for Humanity and is dedicating one year to volunteering in New Orleans for an organization called the St. Bernard Project.
“There are so many little ways to make a big difference,” Bean said.
So, beginning next month, she will be organizing volunteer groups in New Orleans. It costs $100 for food and lodging – all volunteers need to do on their own is get there. And, once there, it’s easy to see why aid is needed.
“Some places look like a third-world country,” Bean said. “There is destruction everywhere you look.”
Shannon Hein also accompanied Bean to New Orleans as a volunteer team leader, and the experience taught her that volunteers are as necessary now as they were two years ago.
“We only put a small dent in the problem,” Hein said. “There is so much need in our own country.”
While they provided service for many, Hein and her team of 14 volunteers helped one single mother and her two children most. The family was sleeping on cement floors while their home was being reconstructed.
“To have the kids come home from school and see the progress really touched me,” Hein said.
The family’s home was not finished by the time Hein and her team had to pack up and head home. So, the family had to wait for the next group of volunteers to finish what Hein started.
“To have to say goodbye and not finish was so emotional,” she said. “We all got onto the bus bawling. But to these complete strangers, we made such a difference.”
Every little bit helps, Bean said, and each person makes a difference.
“There is so much need; it’s a volunteer’s playground,” she said. “Whatever your gifts and abilities are, you’ll find a place to use them.”
The community is so broken and the people living there have such little amount of resources that it might be impossible for New Orleans to get back to the way it was without outside help.
“They are trying to do as much as they can, but they really need support from our country,” Hein said. “People need to realize that people 2,000 miles away are living in slums.”
The homeless population in New Orleans has nearly doubled since the years before Katrina wiped away thousands of homes, according to Forbes magazine, and it will take more helping hands to shelter those who have been without homes for so long.
“Rebuilding homes is, to me, the basic building block of the community,” Bean said. “But without the help of volunteers, it’s not going to happen.”
By helping those in need, individuals can also experience a life-altering transformation.
“It will change your life; it changed 150 people’s lives on that trip,” Hein said. “It’s amazing, it will make you look at life in a totally different way.”
The most important thing Americans can do now, she said, is remember the people affected by Hurricane Katrina and try to put words into action.
“If we don’t see it on the news every day, we don’t think about it,” Hein said. “It’s so important for people to see for themselves, and until they do, it’s not real.”
Associate News Managing Editor Jessi Stafford can be reached at email@example.com