Williamson’s Notes: A Time to Unite

Ask anyone in Southeast Louisiana where they were for Katrina, and they’ll tell you sure as the sun will rise. The exact location and time, down to the minute. Many were here at home – like me now – riding out yet another hurricane. At the time, I worked for United Way of America, but I was based on the east coast when she made landfall. Immediately, our national efforts to rally resources and support for impacted communities began, and my team and others led United Way’s national response. As an outsider who now calls the region home, I had a unique view.

First, I saw the strength and resilience of individuals both in grave need and others called to serve. Those in a position to help ranged from nonprofit staff to neighbors helping neighbors, and even some left without a place to call home. My experience was both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. In Southeast Louisiana, as always, people were there for each other – no matter what.

Second, I witnessed the true power of United Way. I saw precisely what happened when communities across the globe came together, United, to support the communities devastated by the storm.  I recall it vividly.  I’m proud to say that our collaboration of United Ways and corporate partners mobilized the caring power of our network to raise more than $28 million in relief, $11 million of which came to our United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

United Way staff poured in from across the country to bring love and support to their colleagues on the frontline; inspiring and humbling don’t begin to sum it up. 

But more than that, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana staff, many of whom I’m proud to call family today, rose to the occasion, supporting our neighbors in need. Countless hours. Sleepless nights. Days, weeks, and months away from home. They simply got the work done, rebuilding our beloved communities and solidifying our status as a true change-maker in the region. Just as we always are: United Way was there before, during, and after the storm.

It was a moment in time that defined us. A moment for those that were a part of it, forever changing us for the better. It truly was Uniting.      

So now, with Hurricane Ida bearing down on us, I have a simple message for you. We were there for each other 16 years ago today for Katrina, and we must be there for each other now. It’s at the core of who we are as a people, as a human race. It’s simply what we do.

If you are in the path of the storm, please be safe. If you are watching from afar. Pray. 

Ida will pass. We will stand tall, and together, United, we will rebuild.

Living United,


Michael Williamson

Michael Williamson
President and CEO 
United Way of Southeast Louisiana