Katrina hit when I was 17-years old and still figuring out my core values. I realized that my deep connection to philanthropy and social justice. I decided to join AmeriCorps and spend 10 months working with the St. Bernard Project to help continue that important work I started in college.
Location: Rockville, Maryland
What is your charity of choice?:
Currently it is the Washington Humane Society (the DC-based animal shelter system from where I adopted a beloved pet); however I have several causes that are near and dear to my heart that I try and support regularly, including the Alzheimer’s Association, Planned Parenthood, and the American Red Cross.
What is your connection to giving to New Orleans and why have you committed to the city?
I first went to New Orleans on a family trip when I was 14 (pre-Katrina) and was intoxicated by the sounds, smells, and sights. The way some of our country’s most vulnerable people were impacted by the storm was truly devastating to me, and I kept asking my mom if she thought the people who I met when we were there were ok.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a rebuilding trip to New Orleans through an Alternative Spring Break organized by Muhlenberg College’s Hillel when I was in my senior year.We raised enough to send 20+ of us to New Orleans for a week, covering airfare and food, and made a donation of I believe a few thousand dollars to the St. Bernard Project. I was inspired because of the tremendous need, even years later. There were still homes that had yet to be gutted even 4, 5 years after Katrina. We worked with the St. Bernard Project, a rebuilding organization based in Chalmette, Louisiana. Chalmette is part of St. Bernard Parish, right outside of New Orleans, and suffered a tremendous amount of devastation.
What happened after your trip to keep you connected to New Orleans?:
After our year of fundraising leading up that trip and our incredible week there working to rebuild a home, I decided to join AmeriCorps (the domestic Peace Corps) and spend 10 months working with the St. Bernard Project to help continue that important work. I remember on my first day of work – after traveling from my hometown, fresh out of college and fairly unprepared – driving past the house that I worked on when I was a volunteer. It was beautiful and complete and very well-loved, not just by the wonderful couple that lived there but by the dozens of volunteers like myself who had a chance to work on it. It gave me the courage I needed to step into the office on the first day.
St. Bernard Parish was solidly middle class pre-Katrina. My favorite local is a man named Mr. Frank, The St. Bernard Project office was run out of his old storefront/apartment so our office was literally his old bedroom. He would hang around and was such a character. One day he decided to rent a cotton candy machine just because he wanted to make us smile and do something sweet for us (picture attached). He was a big part of my Nola experience. There was certainly poverty in and around the areas we worked. I loved the community and have never felt so welcomed by the homeowners or our neighbors. Southern hospitality is no joke! New Orleans is much more than Bourbon Street and I encourage people to visit and see what else is there besides it.
Is there one meaningful example of a story of impact you can share.
My AmeriCorps position with the St. Bernard Project was a Volunteer Coordinator, part of which included giving orientations to new volunteers on their first day of work. It became one of my favorite parts of my work there to see the faces of our volunteers change as they listened to the history of the area and all of the hurdles that people in this area had faced trying to just get back home. Their faces changed to those of sleepy early-morning people who were nervously wondering if they could actually help rebuild a home to people full of determination and energy to get moving and do whatever they could to get people back into their homes.
Since Katrina, describe how your giving has evolved.
Katrina hit when I was 17-years old and still figuring out my core values. I realized that my deep connection to philanthropy and social justice are things that make me feel more Jewish than any other part of my life. My commitment to tikkun olam is a huge part of who I am and has set the path for several aspects of my life. Giving has always been important to me, but I realize now that giving person-to-person on a smaller scale is just as important as institutional giving. I am currently in the process of applying to be a Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
What do you think the people of New Orleans need most, now, even 10 years later?:
I think what they need most is not to be forgotten. The city is alive and well and more prepared for the next disaster than it was pre-Katrina. However, the wetlands are the area’s first line of defense and they are rapidly being destroyed by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Canal, which was a major contributor to why Katrina was so devastating. I think New Orleans needs tourism more than anything since so many people who were hit the hardest are those in the tourism industry. The downtown areas that tourists visit were mostly unaffected by Katrina, however areas like New Orleans East where tourist industry workers live were hit very hard.
Who inspires you to give?:
My mother, Robin Brinn. As the director of the Manhattan center of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, she has dedicated her life to helping others. It is a level of commitment to giving to others that I hope to emulate.