Women of the storm

Today I learned a new word – synapse.  In the nervous system, a synapse is a structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell. It comes from the Greek “syn-” (“together”) and “haptein” (“to clasp”). In other words the synapse is the space between neurons.

Just like the synapse is essential to neuronal function, so are women to recovery.  In New Orleans I found it was organisations led by women that filled the information gap, it was women who brought people into the fold, who bridged the gap/friction between community and government.

I found in New Orleans a culture of social entrepreneurship, a dogged determination to get the city not just back on its feet but thriving.

The common commitment to people (to build them up, to support them to ‘get whole’, give them opportunities to be leaders , to support them through what is a loss – change- grief process) was inspiring.

Here are a few of the women behind recovery –

Women of the Storm

The power of women coming together is extraordinary – if they have a common purpose they can achieve anything – Anne Milling, Founder of Women of the Storm.

Founded by Anne Milling – When only 12 U.S. senators and 25 members of the House of Representatives had visited the Gulf Coast to see the destruction of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, Women of the Storm organized 130 women and chartered a plane to Washington DC in January 2006. The group walked under blue‐tarp umbrellas to a news conference and called on Congress in teams of two, offering a personal invitation to every member of the House and Senate to visit the area, focusing on needs for housing, safe levees and coastal restoration. Within a few weeks, a 36‐member Congressional delegation travelled to New Orleans. Once they saw the magnitude of the devastation, leaders understood the issue better; most became advocates for the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. In that spring, Congress approved fully funded the Road Home housing restoration program.

Broadmoor Improvement Association

“We are being true to what we say: that people matter!  If we are going to be real about it will show in our actions as well as our words” –  LaToya Cantrell, President of Broadmoor Improvement Association

Since 2005‘s Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) has become a grassroots powerhouse. It has leveraged more than $48 million in outside investments and brought in more than 13,000 volunteers. They have partnered with Harvard University and went from blighted (slated for redevelopment as a green space) to a model for citizen-led recovery efforts.

Beacon of Hope

“We give people to opportunity to be leaders – there is something for everyone – a lot of people are just looking for a way to plug in” – Denise Thornton, founder Beacon of Hope

What started in Denise’s own home is now a grassroots recovery model operating in 25 neighbourhoods across New Orleans. It provides a model for recovery in neighbourhoods that encourages civic action, fosters repopulation and provides information and resources. It is a model that empowers residents to facilitate their own recovery while providing a hub of resident driven activities and a safe environment to create the synergy essential for restoring viable communities  and improve the overall quality of life for residents.

Red Cross – South-East Louisiana Chapter

“You never know who will need help. But what we do know is that people will always be there to help each other through Red Cross” – Kay Wilkins, Chief Executive Officer, Red Cross South Louisiana Chapter.

The Red Cross appeal raised $2.186 billion in response to Katrina – activities included emergency assistance, food and shelter, physical and mental health services, long-term case management.

Kay lived in a hotel with her staff for three months in the initial post-Katrina days. She understands the stress staff feel from listening to the stories of others day in day out, staff who invest their all in supporting others at a cost to their own lives.  In these times Kay emphasises the need to celebrate “when you see all the loss, when you are in the maelstrom trying to put the pieces together, we need to come together and celebrate”

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