Tag Archives: New Orleans

And The Winner Is . . .

30 Nov

Today I have the privilege of announcing the person you voted for to win my $1,000 donation.  First, a bit of an explanation as to why this has taken so long.

I had planned to have this project completed in September just after I joined the ship I work on.  Well, when you consider that I was driving 2100 miles, meeting people going through rough times and writing their stories well, that turns out to be pretty time-consuming.  And then I joined the ship.  I still had some follow-up interviews as well as some stories to write when I boarded.  This meant ship to shore phone calls and writing while working an 80 hour per week job.  Add to that, satellite internet on the ship, filming for the Phoenix NBC station (see video here) and technical difficulties on the website during the voting process and I’m very happy to be able to actually announce a winner.

The winner, with 22.9% of the vote, was Jose.  But just as in life, this project is unpredictable.  You see, another reason for the delay in announcing is that Jose is homeless.  If you recall, he was living in a shelter when I met him at a job fair.  I contacted the shelter and they informed me that he was no longer living there and had gotten a job.  They gave me the name of the café he was working at and I called to see if he was in.  They informed me that he had quit the previous week and they had no idea where he was.  I tried contacting him on a cell phone number that I had for him and left multiple messages on the voicemail.  I do not know why he quit and it’s not up to me to judge.  Still, I have found it impossible to get in touch with him.  This left me with a dilemma.  What to do with the money.

I have chosen to go with the spirit of the original plan – to let the readers decide.  As the 2nd and 3rd place winners were separated by one vote, I decided to split the money between them.  They are Stella and Shanika.

Stella, if you recall, was the hurricane Katrina survivor who, after living in a church for two weeks, invited 30 family members to live in her house which she felt blessed to find still standing.  When I phoned Stella to let her know of the outcome of the Rebel Project, she was grateful.  Unfortunately, the good news was tempered with the bad news that Stella has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  Stella has provided so much strength to others that I have no doubt that she will be in many people’s prayers.

Shanika and her four children were living at a shelter run by the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  When I contacted the shelter Shanika was still there.  But, true to form, she was working to become independent.  Shanika has obtained a job cleaning houses.  While she hopes for a job which better suits her experience, she is grateful for the work.  Besides some money, the job has provided something more.  A home.  You see, The Coalition for the Homeless runs a program called Housing Now.  The Housing Now program provides assistance to those with moderate barriers to independence.  Participants must be drug free and have a job. It provides rental assistance, case management and supportive services.

When told of the financial donation I was providing Shanika told me, “This could not have come at a better time.”  Her case manager will work with her on budgeting and the best way to use this money.  Shanika continues to do her best to be a good example for her children.  “Manners and respect carry you far,” she says of her philosophy on raising her kids.

This project was very personal and I thank you for sharing it with me.  I am not only grateful for the opportunity and resources to have taken on this project, but for all of your support.  In the spirit of the Rebel-With-A-Cause project, I will ask you to do one more thing – help because you can.


Stella – Stronger than a Hurricane

27 Sep

Stella lives in New Orleans. She has lived there all her life. While living in the 9th Ward, she experienced Hurricane Betsy in 1965. In 2005 she lived through Hurricane Katrina.

Stella comes from a large family with nine siblings. All lived close by. Her husband also has nine siblings. Stella’s husband is an Army and Air Force veteran with 20 years spent in the military. In 1997, when he was coaching an Air Force basketball team he was injured and was left a quadriplegic. Due to her husband’s condition Stella has a rule, “Anytime they have a hurricane that’s category two, I leave.”

When they received warning of Katrina they headed to Beaumont, Texas to stay with her husband’s brother. At first things were comfortable. Then more and more family members began arriving. In the end, 20 people were staying in the house. First reports were that the city had survived. But then the worst happened. “We weren’t expecting the levees to break,” she says. When they did, they were told it would be at least six months before they could return home.

“We all searched for places to rent.” They found one but, “as soon as we moved in we were evacuated for Rita.” So they found another hotel but were then told to go further north. “We got to feeling if we were going to die, let’s do it with family,” she says. So they went to San Antonio. There, the family stayed in a church. With them was everyone who had been in the house and more. There was no air conditioning but some n neighborhood ladies invited them to their houses to shower.

After two weeks in the church they went back to the rented house in Beaumont. They stayed there for just under two weeks before sneaking back to their own neighborhood which had been closed off. When they arrived, they were devastated to see that, of her family of ten and her husband’s family of ten, theirs was the only house left standing. So Stella invited all 30 people to stay with them. “As long as I had a place to share with others, I was very fortunate.” Stella and her husband even had a trailer put in the backyard to accommodate more people.

Eventually everyone moved out of her house. But it changed their family. All but one of Stella’s sibling’s decided not to return. “They don’t trust the politicians,” she says. “People say that they’re going to do for you and they don’t. The Corps of Engineers knew these levees weren’t strong.” Stella and her husband know the risks of where they live. “After Betsy in 65, I was always prepared. I lived in the 9th Ward then and we saw those bodies floating by.”

They stay because it’s their home, but they have a plan. Someone in the family is assigned to pick-up the small children, they have a pre-arranged meeting point and she keeps a hatchet by the door, just in case they need to climb up to the attic and exit through the roof.

Stella’s hope is that she’s taught her daughter to raise her children with character.

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