[StBernard] Aiding Katrina recovery is life-changing

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 16 21:59:05 EDT 2006

Aiding Katrina recovery is life-changing

On Aug. 29, 2005, I sat in my home, safe from the fury slamming the Gulf

I frantically tried to locate family and friends in Louisiana, as I fondly
remembered my days as a graduate student at Louisiana State University. The
relief of finding they were safe made me realize I had to do something to
help the people of Louisiana who had been so kind to me during my three
years in Baton Rouge.

I live in Verona, a giving and generous community outside of Madison, Wis.
Students and staff in my school community organized and raised $26,000 for
the Red Cross, donated 10,000 books to the people of Biloxi, Miss., and sent
12,000 pounds of school supplies and uniforms to the St. Bernard Unified
School in Chalmette, La.

Seventh-graders at Oregon and Verona middle schools made lap blankets for
the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Attached to each was a note of
encouragement for recipients.

I have been to the Gulf Coast twice, each for two weeks at a time. Friends
have gone with me, along with my son and his hockey friends. We gutted
several homes and the St. Bernard sheriff's office. We also helped the St.
Bernard Council on Aging get ready for its open house by planting bulbs and
trees donated by local greenhouses from Madison and Metairie, La.

Has this storm changed my life? Yes, forever. A few examples:

. As my friend Steve Gonzales, whose home we cleaned out, said, "The more I
give away, the more I receive." When you are with someone cleaning out his
or her valuables and finding treasures, such as an untarnished photo of the
spouse who recently passed away, it's a connection you will never forget.

. I didn't know hard work could be so tiring and rewarding at the same time.
As my daughter shared upon her return, "It is the best tired I have ever

. A young saleswoman at Charvette's Greenhouse in Metairie, after I
expressed my concern for her losing her home, said very poignantly, "It's
just stuff. My family is all safe!"

. Thousands of volunteers are making a difference. We worked with fantastic
young people from Northwestern and Auburn universities who gave up their
spring break. One of the students said, "Knocking out a wall is a boy's
dream come true." Their energy was contagious.

I am very proud to be an American able to work alongside the survivors and
other volunteers in the Katrina recovery efforts. I encourage others to go
and be a part of this life-changing experience. It will renew a much needed
recognition of the struggle to attain the American Dream.

Mary Bishop

Verona, Wis.

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