August 29, 2005 is indelibly etched in our minds as a day of heartaches and heroes. The world watched in horror as the southeast Louisiana landscape and our lives were forever changed by Hurricane Katrina. Just three weeks later, Hurricane Rita roared ashore causing additional damage. Generations from now the catastrophes of Katrina and Rita will still be defining points in our history. And, then, as now, United Way of Southeast Louisiana will proudly say it was here for you.
With your support, in the past ten years, United Way has raised $178.4 million to assist people in Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington Parishes.
Immediately following the storms, efforts were concentrated on the basics such as food, clothing, temporary shelter and medical support. Later, more complex needs were tackled such as critical mental health counseling, quality childcare so parents could go to work to support their families and after school programs to keep kids safe and off the streets.
Our efforts resulted in 108+ million pounds of food distributed, 223,169 mental health counseling sessions held, 183,454 afterschool/enrichment services provided, 19,963 instances of quality childcare offered and 1.1 million community volunteer hours served!
But, as we reach "halftime" of what many have suggested might be a twenty year recovery, I ask a very basic question. So what?
Call Hurricane Katrina a wakeup call, a message from above or a knock on the head, it really does not matter. It happened and it is just that simple. So, now let's answer the question. So what?
I was asked a question yesterday which, I think, answers 'So what?' Brooke Smith, Chief of Staff, for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked, "If you could ask for anything for the next ten years, except money, what would it be?"
My answer was leadership. Simply put, we need public and private sector leadership to come together around a common agenda that truly accelerates the renaissance of our region. If we learned nothing else, we did learn that a crises quickly forces leadership to rally and focus. Hurricane Katrina did that for us and, I believe, we responded. And, we have the last ten years of progress to show for it.
But, to effectively answer the question of 'So what?', we must come together with a spirit of collaboration and focus that rivals our resilient nature. If we do that, I believe that we will be joyfully celebrating a new era in our region. An era where all of our children achieve academic success, lead healthy and productive lives and have equal access to economic opportunity.
In the past, we may have considered this the 'American Dream'. Today, I might suggest it is a 'Global Dream'. And, it is a dream that should be a reality for all.
Thank you for supporting United Way. We are part of a team and culture that continues to help change lives and shape communities.
President & CEO
United Way of Southeast Louisiana