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NOLAKatrinaThe events of August 29, 2005 changed everything. A city was devastated, lives were lost, bodies and souls were injured, structures and landscapes were flattened. Homes, businesses, churches, and public facilities found themselves under 8-12 feet of water that wouldn’t go away. The worst of some people came out in looting and vandalism; the best of others came out in spontaneous help for total strangers. Longtime locals suddenly realized their desperate need and love for each other while government agencies and the corporate world struggled to find a helpful direction.

Hurricane Katrina had overwhelmed New Orleans.

The devastation that day was felt as a wake up call to a group of Christians over 2,600 miles away. Spearheaded by Carl Knirk, the Diocese of Olympia’s then Canon for Stewardship and Development, and Connie Uddo, Director of the Homecoming Center at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans, an incredible bond was formed between groups whose commonality was the love and grace of Jesus.

The Diocese of Olympia desperately wanted to help those reeling from the most powerful hurricane to ever strike American soil. St. Paul’s and its immediate Lakewood neighborhood desperately needed help in trying to restore some semblance of normalcy. Knirk gathered support from across the 30,000 Episcopalians in our diocese and launched an ambitious multi-year effort to raise $500,000 to assist St. Paul’s Church, its school and the surrounding area.

We Will Stand with You was born.

Through a variety of diocesan and local church events along with individual contributions, We Will Stand with You reached its half million-dollar goal in less than five years. Knirk sent St. Paul’s the final $30,000 contribution just one week before his untimely death in May, 2010.

But this unlikely long-distance partnership wasn’t just about money. Hundreds of thousands of residents of New Orleans saw their homes severely damaged or totally destroyed by the horrific storm and unprecedented flooding that followed. They needed physical bodies to help them clean up the mess and reconstruct water-damaged houses. One of the ongoing efforts to help these NOLA residents was an annual trek of 10-20 dedicated folks from across our diocese, led by Kathy Hamilton, then Canon for Youth and Young Adults.

KatrinaNOLA2For seven years, beginning in 2006, Kathy and her rotating team of workers spent one week each year working with Uddo and her Homecoming Center, as well as with other agencies, to help put homes and lives back together. They tore down damaged wallboard, put up new wallboard, cleaned up mud and debris from floors, installed new flooring; they nailed, screwed, sawed, painted, landscaped, swept, vacuumed, washed — whatever was needed. They discovered skills they didn’t even know they had!

Bonds were formed and memories were made in the ten years following the hurricane. Joy and new life rose out of destruction and despair. The Diocese of Olympia realized how close we really are to our neighbors to the south and that we really can make a difference after a disaster. Awareness of our own vulnerabilities here in the Pacific Northwest has increased as a result and, with the help of disaster preparedness specialists like Dave Baylor and Katie Mears of Episcopal Relief & Development, we are beginning to take steps to handle a future “Katrina level” disaster should it strike in our own part of the world.

As we mark the 10th Anniversary of this life-changing event, let us give thanks for the work of Carl, Kathy, Connie and the many others from our diocese who supported and participated in recovery efforts in New Orleans. Let us give thanks for the entire Diocese of Olympia and their incredible generosity in donating $500,000 to help people most of us will never know.

Please pray for those residents of New Orleans who were helped in their recovery, those who fell through the cracks in the recovery process, those who never had the financial or emotional strength to return, and for the families and friends of those lost in the storm.

Chuck Hamilton, Diocese of Olympia ERD (Episcopal Relief & Development) Coordinator

Hurricane Katrina 10 Years On

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