Friday, March 23, 2007

Thursday's Reality

The picture on the left is of me standing on my parent's lot - you can no longer see the slab. They had done the plumbing, electrical, and poured the cement foundation.
The picture on the right is looking down Whispering Pines Drive in Waveland - parent's lot on the left and beach is straight ahead.
The destruction in Waveland and Bay St. Louis is almost unimaginable. What most people see on television (if anything) does not show these areas. There is so much work to be done and it will be decades before these two beautiful southern towns will be anywhere close to what they used to be.

Thursday's Work

Our work on Thursday was going door-to-door in Waveland, MS - one of the hardest hit areas of the storm. We were interviewing residents to determine how familiar they are with the various programs and if they had actually taken advantage of the programs (FEMA, SBA, Phase I and Phase II MS Homeowners Grants). Many residents were satisfied with what they received; however, many were not aware of everything that was available to them and did not want to seem "greedy". A few of them felt they were treated as beggars when dealing with FEMA and also stated that businesses were price gauging because the perception was people were getting lots of money and had it to spend - which is in fact not the case.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mississippi Center for Justice

Standing: Eric Herr, Nancy Sykes, Sam Charron, Jeremy Bramson, Ryan Agnew, Keith Grompone, Lindsay Jones, Richard Abbott
Kneeling: Paula Zimmer, Stephanie Schlatter, Josh Papapietro, Alexander Kalife, Kristina da Fonseca, Kelly Koch

This picture was taken outside the office of the MS Center for Justice - the organization we have been working with this week. Check out their website at

Katrina Memorial

Standing: Eric Herr, Lindsay Jones, Stephanie Schlatter, Jeremy Bramson, Sam Charron, Paula Zimmer, Ryan Agnew, Nancy Sykes, Richard Abbott
Kneeling: Keith Grompone, Alexander Kalife, Josh Papapietro, Kristina da Fonseca, Kelly Koch

This picture was taken at the Katrina Memorial, across the street from the Beau Rivage Casino on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi, MS. The collage of materials in the glass case are remains of belongings salvaged from the storm - broken dishes, a police badge, little league trophies, and other memorabilia.

Tuesday's work

Two of our 1L volunteers, Ryan Agnew and Jeremy Bramson, met a wondeful woman on Monday - Latrice Smith. Her story was so compelling that we decided to go back on Tuesday and record an interview with her on a camcorder. She told of living in the Ladner public housing years ago and working her way out of it through hard work and dedication - only to be forced back there after Katrina. Her faith is strong and the love she has for her daughters is overwhelming. Latrice is not looking for a handout - she wants to be treated with basic human dignity and that has not happened. The residents in her community are being told a number of contradictory stories about the future of their housing and what is going to happen to them. They have yet to be given a straight answer. Latrice is the perfect example of a human being who has endured indescribable tragedy, yet still finds a way each day to make the life of her children better. Latrice said it best, "Our government failed."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Our First Day of Work

"One of the best parts about the first day of outreach is how excited many of the people are that we want to visit with them. We met unbelievable people with unforgettable stories and all of them thanked us for going to check on them and to make them aware of available services."

Kelly Koch, 3L (in the green shirt)

Synoposis of the First Day:

Our first day at the Mississippi Center for Justice was everything we thought it would be and more. The work they are doing is great and everyone at the office is so energetic about the work. We spent the morning learning about the different projects we have the opportunity to work on this week and then in the afternoon we did some outreach work with residents of a public housing community. Many of them have been told very different stories about what is in their future as far as the housing goes - and they really are being given no assistance. Many were displaced from a variety of environments and the conditions they are being asked to live in are less than acceptable. There are also residents who have been there for over 15 years and are being threatened with relocation. The center will be compiling information based on our interviews. Residents were also asked to sign releases so that the center can work on their behalf. Some residents agreed, but others seem very wary about signing anything for fear of retribution. There is so much work to be done and the people are so thankful to just have someone listening to them - and what is even more apparent is that they are not asking for much. Just minimal housing and dignity.

We met some special residents and lots of adorable little kids - we thought you might enjoy seeing a picture of the group and also some of the residents we met.

In Loving Memory

Part of the reason we decided to come to the MS Gulf Coast was because my parents and grandparents lost the homes they were building to Hurricane Katrina. Since then, my grandfather passed away in December 2005. My grandmother passed away yesterday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

She was so excited that our group was coming to the coast to help people. It is in honor of her memory that I am working this week.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday, March 18th

Well, the day was beautiful and most of us spent our time recovering from the flight yesterday and enjoying the 75 degree and sunny day. Kelly and I went to visit my relatives in Pass Christian and saw much of the destruction in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, and Pass. We did not get over to Bay St. Louis and Waveland - hope to do that later in the week. We did have a wonderful lunch - shrimp gumbo/rice and crawfish pie. It was wonderful.

We found a great barbecue place - The Shed - Exit 57 off I90. It was great!

Will post more tomorrow after our first day.

Arrival in Gulfport/Biloxi

After receiving 8-10 inches of snow on Friday, we were worried that we would not make it out of Hartford for our trip. We got to the airport much earlier than necessary, but did make it out on time. However, when we arrived in Atlanta, things got much worse. Our flight was delayed for several hours and we didn't get in until almost 10:00 pm. Even though it was late, you could smell the water and driving up Highway 90 you could see much ofthe destruction is still very evident. I think this is going to be a real wake up call for many people on the trip, and very sad for me personally because my memories of the Gulf Coast are of a beautiful, quaint area with old southern homes and special people. Some of the people are still here, but so much more is gone.

I will post pictures during our trip - and will try to make some of the pictures before/after pics.

We will be doing volunteer legal work with the Mississippi Center for Justice and I will share that work as well.