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First Impressions

Posted By Alison Plenge, Mar 19, 2007

Trees stripped bare by hurricaine in front of Six Flags park

In New Orleans, even in the areas that are whole again and functioning--the French Quarter, Uptown, downtown in the business district--it is impossible to be unaware of what happened here and the ongoing recovery efforts. "The Storm" is the stage on which New Orleans performs. Everyone I have met and talked to here refers to it constantly: there are hundreds of thousands of stories, and they come from every walk of life. As a speaker we heard tonight said, "Katrina was an equal opportunity employer..."

But it is not an equal opportunity restoration and reparation effort. Our four-hour tour of the city forced my perspective to change. We are all informed citizens who read the paper and various news and opinions articles; we watch the news. This city is not as it appears in various portrayals. The residents who are here do not want to be anywhere else; their perseverance in rebuilding their communities is truly awe-inspiring.

This week, four of us are volunteering with the New Orleans Legal Assistance Center (NOLAC). We are interviewing low-income homeowners who are not qualified for the federal government's Road Home program because they do not have clear title to their property. In most cases, these homeowners lost everything during Katrina. All they have left is an uninhabitable house on property that they rightfully own but do not have legal title to get the money to repair. In interviewing these homeowners, we are gathering the history of their property and consequently, their personal familial history. These are private conversations that often expose the difficult relationships that exist in almost all families. Yet, we have found that the homeowners are gracious, dignified, and unbelievably persistent in their desire to rebuild.

I am so proud to be here, to meet these survivors who continue to live their lives with dignity and strength. I think that I can speak for the group in writing that I feel privileged to be here--even for six days--and privileged to be welcome here to do whatever little part I can to help these people come home.