Note From New Orleans

Felice runs something called the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. Her number two, Tricia, is presently in New Orleans, visiting schools the Foundation has made donations to. I thought you’d find her report interesting.


I just got back from an exhausting but thorough and very productive tour of St. Bernard and New Orleans. I can’t even begin to attempt to describe what I saw today. I haven’t actually processed it all yet. What these people have and are still going through is unimaginable. There are no reports on tv, no articles and no descriptions that can describe it. On the other hand, the schools that are up and running are overflowing with spirit and hope. After driving past one suburb after another that was abandoned and destroyed with everyone in the area still living in trailers, we would pull into a school and witness an entirely different scenario. The kids were smiling, joking with one another…they were able to simply be kids. We were flooded with appreciation from the district, the principals, the music teachers and the students. When we visited the students in the music rooms you could tell they were happy to be there, it felt good to know these kids are somehow escaping from reality if even for a brief part of the day by being in music class and that we are at least partially responsible for providing that to them.

Charles, the St. Bernard cultural arts supervisor, was our tour guide today. As he pulled into a driveway he said, "this is somewhat embarrasing, but this is the reality." It was his historic home that had been beaten by Katrina. He, his wife and his daughter now live in a trailer and have not decided if they can rebuild it. They have received no financial assistance through FEMA or insurance and have no means at the time to do so. This is the story for miles and miles of neighborhoods. I felt many times that I was in a third world country today, a very frustrating feeling knowing I was actually on U.S. soil. How could this still be the case two years later? Being here and seeing this is a real reality check that any of us could be in this situation after some type of a disaster. As Charles said, one moment you have everything and the next moment so much of it is all gone.

There’s one memory that I can’t get out of my head…there was a house that looked like all the others. It had been flooded, everything inside was turned upside down and must be molding. Windows, doors, and part of the roof were missing. However, unlike all the others that have been abandoned and the families moved to FEMA trailers, there was a family still living in this one. I asked Charles why they didn’t have a trailer and he said the process to get a trailer can be a 1-2 year wait period after completing stacks of paperwork. Perhaps this family didn’t go through the process or maybe they are still waiting for it. There was a woman sitting on a small chair on what was left of the front porch. She was surrounded by what looked like junk to anyone else but I’m sure were priceless belongings that survived the storm. As she sat there, I noticed she was rocking back and forth and when I looked closer, she was listening to her iPod. I can’t get the picture out of my mind of this woman sitting in rubble, holding onto what few things she has left, living in stench, holding onto the last bit of "home" that she and her family have, and using the power of music to get through it.


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