Katrina15: Hope Is Everything

This year, we are facing more crises than we can count, but somehow we still find hope.

Because of the uncertainty of the weather this week, we had to cancel the wall raising ceremony we planned for the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. Our goal was a simple message, shared with the communities who have made our work possible: There’s still work to be done. We’re still building. With the devastation wrought by Hurricane Laura, we wish to take this moment instead to extend our solidarity and support to those in western Louisiana impacted by the storm. We want to share the hope and inspiration we’ve been so lucky to have these last 15 years.

At New Orleans Habitat, we see every day the power of bridging diverse communities, of helping one another, of showing up for our neighbors. Looking back 15 years to Hurricane Katrina, we cannot help but see parallels to the crises we are experiencing today. Whether it is the storm or the pandemic, we see the systemic failures, the racial disparities in who is impacted, and the anger and frustration. But we also see the hope that comes when people give freely and support one another. Whether by helping our elders with groceries or traveling across the country to build homes, the spirit of giving is present after every disaster.

New Orleans Habitat started in 1983, but Hurricane Katrina redefined our work. It proved how deeply the need for affordable housing impacted our community, and the response from around the world inspired and empowered us to amplify our efforts. Over 200,000 volunteers have given their time to swinging hammers, painting walls, supporting the ReStore, and more. Though we have paused volunteers for now, we will host them again one day soon. The storm and levee failures 15 years ago showed us the true value of volunteers. Today, the pandemic has made it harder to bring people together, but we are determined to keep building. While we work on solving the challenges presented by the pandemic, our staff continues to build homes for and with our partner families.

In the wake of Katrina, their stories were of floodwaters, the Super Dome, and profound losses, but also of the now-proverbial resilience of our city. They returned when others left. They built communities. They brought music and life back to the city. During the pandemic, our partner families have gone above and beyond for their communities, serving as essential workers and learning how to be teachers for their now-home-schooled children, and engaging in community service to provide food and resources to those in need. Habitat partner families inspire us every day.

Though we have not yet seen the end of these current crises, we find strength and hope in those in our extended Habitat community. If we could turn back time and erase all the pain, suffering, and destruction brought by Hurricane Katrina and the floods, we would without hesitation, but we carry with us the lessons of the storm, and we will be working with affiliates in the affected areas to bring support in the coming weeks.