Sunday, June 10, 2007

Community Building in New Orleans -Guest Commentary

Thanks to everyone who emailed about last week's Washington Post story on local bloggers. This week Laurel Connections is pleased to offer our blog space to Ms. Mary Wilson.

Rebuilding A City: Growing A Community

By Mary Wilson (New Orleans, June 2007)

Everything moves slower in New Orleans. People, conversation, metabolism—even the water trickles lazily down the gutter guards into the street. People saunter down streets swaying to some distant sound of music. A rail-thin man with legs like stilts, wearing a porkpie hat is on his way to nowhere special. A woman is walking a dog on a leash made from an old neck-tie. You can see the faint dark shadow of a tattoo on her left buttock through her cream linen dress.

I was born and raised in Laurel, and I suffered from small-town claustrophobia for a long time. So, I selected a college in New York City to live anonymously and unattached. But about a week ago, I went to New Orleans on a service trip with a group of 10 other Fordham University students.
New Orleans knocked the cocky independence right out of me, and ended my love affair with New York’s indifference. By the end of the week, my service team had forged the strongest sense of community I’ve ever known. The more it developed, the more it stood in stark contrast to our surroundings. As we worked with various hurricane relief efforts throughout the city, we saw what it looks like when communities are abandoned.

I’ll never forget riding into New Orleans for the first time. Seeing house after abandoned house spray-painted with “TFW”—shorthand for Toxic Flood Water. The huge “X” marked on every door in the most damaged neighborhoods, the bottom cavity of the cross reserved for a number to note how many dead bodies had been found inside. I met people whose homes were seized by the government because 30 days after the storm they were still in Texas or Georgia and hadn’t come back to claim their house. I passed countless schools, churches, storefronts that had been boarded up since August 2005.

The most dramatic devastation was due to Katrina, but the more insidious damage is because of the absence of community. It disappeared with the people, deserted by a government that cared only to ensure the safety of the city’s money-making attractions. One government official is quoted saying the storm did what the city never could: clear out the poorest parts of the city. The fear now is that the city will rebuild: right on top of the longstanding communities that need help coming home and getting back on their feet.

Seeing New Orleans reminded me of what I’ve always known to be true: that government must serve the community. And yet, by the end of the week, it was not the depressing state of the local government that stuck with me, but the hope I found in the local community.

Laurel is blessed with a strong community and an impressive city government that serves it at every opportunity. I have always taken it for granted. I finally see how important it is. We must cherish the community we have in Laurel and serve it when we can. We must continuously renew it to make it better.

We all have a stake in our local place--our community. But only if we stake our claim together do we stand a chance against the next storm that comes our way.

The author with her Global Outreach Team in New Orleans, (seated) Natasha Kayulu, Frank Rupp, Danielle Gasbarro, (standing) Sabina Antal, Mary Wilson, Jodey Ruthen, Sarah Cascone, Georgia Doremus, Ian Hayes, Fergus Scully, Brendan Sculley. Click photo to enlarge.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A New Laurel Tradition Is Born

(click picture to enlarge)

What do you get when you mix the following ingredients?

  • 40 children on bicycles
  • A few hundred yards of colored ribbons
  • Hundreds of balloons
  • Half a mile of tape
  • Lots of glue
  • 6 Laurel Police officers, half of them on super cool police bikes
  • 40 pounds of ice cream
  • A warm summer evening

You get a brand new Laurel tradition!

Laurel City Council member Gayle Snyder organized the first ever Laurel bike decorating contest, bike parade and ice cream social tonight. It was a great success and surely a brand new tradition for Laurel.

The kids decorated their bikes at the Laurel Armory and then paraded with a full police escort down the 400 block of Montgomery Street. Adults had a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors. Everyone had a great time enjoying Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream bars.

Kudos to Councilwoman Gayle Snyder and her team of helpers for a wonderful idea, beautifully executed. (I believe Mr. Fred Snyder deserves special thanks for collecting goodies all day.) Laurel Police Officers did a fantastic job keeping the parade route safe. Council Member Mike Leszcz, State Senator Jim Rosapepe and Mayor Craig Moe also took time out of hectic schedules to join in the fun. Joanne Wilson had the unenviable job of judging the bike decorating contest. But everyone was a winner tonight as a new Laurel tradition was born. Be sure to join Gayle next year on the first Friday in June for this annual event.