Saturday, August 28, 2010

Katrina Anniversary... What 5 Years Can Bring

Typically anniversaries are a time of celebration- celebrating a marriage or something similar, seems it's always the celebration of something's beginning. Therefore it seems a bit strange to celebrate an "anniversary" of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast and bringing such destruction and in essence an end to so many things. That said, 5 years ago yesterday Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and changed the lives of countless people, including my own. As I think back on my role in the Katrina recovery and the intensity and singular purpose of my work there (helping people get back on their feet and in their homes), it becomes a bit easier to think of this anniversary as a time of celebration. While there is much recovery yet to happen on the coast (especially in light of the most recent BP travesty), there has also been much progress and the wonderful people there have emerged stronger and in many cases the necessity to rebuild has led to a rebirth of school systems, the arts, restaurants, tourism, etc.

I went down to the Gulf Coast in my dad's pickup truck loaded down with supplies to help out for "a few weeks" right after the hurricane hit 5 years ago. Little did I know that a few weeks would turn into months and then more than a year as I started a life-changing non-profit operation to rebuild homes through the Presbyterian Church in Bay St. Louis, MS. As this operation ramped up, I was recruiting volunteers from around the country and was soon employing upwards of 120 volunteers daily to work in the community free of red tape. For me personally, this was a very special time and although the work was harder than any I've ever done, the feeling of being exactly where you're supposed to be and helping others with your whole spirit was pretty incredible. Not only that, but I met my wonderful wife Kirsten on the coast, as she came down from Seattle to volunteer with the very first group of volunteers to my operation. I couldn't be happier with the way Hurricane Katrina changed the course of my life. Now 5 years later, not only are Kirsten and I happily married, but we have 2 beautiful baby girls who I can't help but think wouldn't be here if it weren't for Katrina. People often speak of looking for the silver lining when bad things happen, and 5 years out from Katrina the silver lining is more clear than ever. We still pray for recovery to continue on the coast and know that things will never be the same there, but I am also so grateful for the time we had on the coast and the way it altered the course of our lives forever. Here are a few pictures of my Katrina silver lining;


crowther said...

Sam, I loved this post, including the "S and K tired" photo, which, to me, really captures the intensity of your efforts. My question to you is, having devoted as much time as you did to the Katrina recovery, has that affected what you want to do (work-wise) with the rest of your life? Or was Katrina more of a unique experience where you were uniquely positioned to help, but not one that you'll necessarily be replicating or branching off of in the future?

Sam said...

Thanks Greg, and yes- we love that photo too... it was one of those candid shots we never knew was being taken that really captures the total fatigue factor.
Great question regarding how this experience has affected my work in the present day- and I'm sorry to say that I have yet to find anything anywhere near as meaningful. My work post-Katrina was without a doubt a unique experience where everything just clicked, and while I'm certainly not writing off the prospect of doing something similar in the future, I'm also not exactly counting on it. I think one definite take away from this experience moving forward is that I learned I am able to get people's attention through my running efforts, and through that I am able to help others. So, I guess in thinking through this, that would be the one thing I really try to do presently- figuring out ways to use my talents to help others (even in small ways... not necessarily as directly as literally putting a roof over someone's head). That is a long, roundabout way of saying that I'd love to plug in to something that branches off of my Katrina work at some point in the future where I'm able to directly help others in need every day, but seasons change in life and I know I'm not able to commit to anything quite as intense as the Katrina work just yet. Hope you are well Greg, and hope to see you sometime again soon! Every once in a while I see you running up Broadway probably run commuting!

crowther said...

Sam, thanks for the response. Using running to raise money/awareness/etc. is an interesting topic, and as it becomes more and more common, I sometimes suspect people of dreaming up an adventure they'd like to do and then tacking on some charity angle to justify what would otherwise be an exercise in self-indulgence. But I don't question _your_ motives, and, motives aside, if something good comes out of it, then who am I to complain? Good luck finding your next big project and all of the little ones along the way!