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.
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.