Perhaps Thomas Wolfe was correct -- you can't go home again. Certainly that's what many former Louisiana residents are saying one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and nearby communities.
Fewer than half of the 450,000 people who lived in the Crescent City last August have returned. One reason is that the governments that are supposed to help these people have instead failed them.
Not because of a lack of spending. If simply throwing cash around could accomplish anything, New Orleans would be repopulated already. The federal government has dedicated $7.5 billion simply to help rebuild and repair hurricane-damaged homes.
But the program, called "Road Home," is taking the scenic route. So far, the Associated Press reports, it's helped only 42 -- that's right, 42 -- homeowners. Gov. Kathleen Blanco admits that progress is slow. "We are moving in government speed," she told reporters last week.
But let's compare the government's response with that of faith-based organizations. While elected "leaders" dither, religious leaders are building homes and lives.
First Presbyterian Church of Iowa City sent 19 members to New Orleans this summer to rebuild a family's home. "It's a blessing, really a blessing," said recipient Alicia Boswell.
Dulin United Methodist of Falls Church, Va., sent a team to Mississippi to rebuild a home. It also adopted a family that fled New Orleans, helping them furnish an apartment and giving them a car.
A team from Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Conn., traveled to Bay St. Louis, Miss., to help a family rebuild. They hung dry wall, painted and installed plumbing. "Meeting this family humanized the loss and helped us feel like we could make a difference," Pastor Bob Guffey said.
Parishioners at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., adopted two families that had lost virtually everything in Lacombe, La. Church members helped the families rebuild their homes, and they purchased new furniture and household items to replace those Katrina destroyed.
These are all small steps, of course. But that's why they're successful. Instead of burning through billions of bucks to help everyone simultaneously (the Washington approach) these churches do what they can -- and make a difference. "You help one person at a time," volunteer Don Garland says. And it adds up. "The only way you can [do disaster relief] is by making life better for one person, then another person, then another. Anything else is good intentions."
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