It was seventeen years ago today Hurricane Katrina barrelled into Louisiana. The storm killed over 1,800 people and caused over $125 Billion in damage. At the time, it was one of the most deadliest and damaging hurricanes to ever hit our nation. For weeks, the nation’s eyes were transfixed on New Orleans as dams failed and entire neighborhoods were underwater. The New Orleans Superdome was transfixed into the largest emergency housing shelter ever, the traffic on interstate highways had all lanes moving away from the coast, power and water systems failed. It was a disaster on every level. And even years after the storm, the towns in and around New Orleans were devastated.
Ten years ago, I took my first trip to New Orleans to help rebuild homes after the storm; I would end up making two other return trips and even a trip to New York after Hurricane Sandy. My first trip was a full five years after the storm, but the wounds were still fresh. It’s simply amazing how a storm can have a traumatic effect not only on families, but even entire communities.
I remember the first house I fixed in the suburb Slidell. On the outside the home looked like any other one-story ranch home. Nice yard, well maintained. The inside told a different story. We were welcomed by a middle-aged woman and a rottweiler. The home was literally nothing but studs and a concrete floor. Our job was to insulate and put in the drywall. It seemed like a tall order, but our team of twenty-four men were able to do it.
One of the tasks I had during the week was installing a toilet. Having worked at a hardware store where we sold toilets, supply lines and wax rings, I was up for the task. I remember installing the toilet on a Wednesday and when we came up to the house on Thursday, I met the homeowner, Julie, on the toilet.
“I sat on my toilet all night. It’s been five years since I have had my own toilet, so it just seemed like something I wanted to do.”
It wasn’t until that point until I fully realized how much this work was really part of the healing process for Julie.
Before the storm, Julie was an empty nester who had a job at a local hospital as a nurse. The storm didn’t merely take her job away, it took the entire hospital away. Julie’s house was flooded, everything on the inside was destroyed. Everything she owned could fit on a three-shelf rack that stood about six feet tall.
Julie ended up moving with her mother and she worked odd jobs trying to get her life back in order. Others weren’t so lucky, due to the stress of the storm her only brother, also living with her and her mom, committed suicide.
Julie was able to get help putting new electric wiring into her home. It didn’t last long. “A few days after it was put in, scrappers came by and stole all the wiring. I saved up my money and bought a dog, then I put in new wiring.”
Julie lived in the damaged house every night and during the day she would go back to her mother’s house. The week we were there, we were treated to shrimp gumbo and jambalaya, compliments of Julie and her mother.
The whole point of this story is that these trips helped me grow as a person. These trips helped me develop a better sense of compassion and a sense of generosity. These trips helped form and focus me to a life committing myself to serving and caring for others.
I had always thought I cared for and served others, but when you travel across the country to serve and care for people that you have never met in a real concrete way, it can do nothing but change your life and change your outlook. Not only do experiences like this strengthen your values of compassion and generosity, it grows your values of humility and gratitude. You quickly learn that our lives can change quickly and we can’t take things for granted.
It’s these values of compassion, generosity, humility and gratitude that I am bringing to this campaign to be the next mayor of our community! Would you join me on this campaign? Learn more at www.williamlutz.org