When I turned 30, I went to Japan, danced in a Harvest Festival Parade on national television the day of my birthday, visited some temples, bought some pearls, learned a few words. I came home to a constitutional crisis and an empty apartment (November 7, 2000, and my roomate had moved out while I was gone), and started a new job a few days later.
This year, I had planned to turn 35 in New Orleans. I called a few friends with milestone birthdays around the same time, and was mid-planning a Big Easy adventure when... Hurricane Katrina hit. I told my friends who live down there that I still wanted to come, to help with the relief effort, show support, and still party as only the Cajuns can in the face of a disaster. Alas, the rest of my party troup was not so inclined.
But I didn't want to wait for my birthday to help out. So I asked my boss if I could be transferred to our Louisiana office (did I ever mention that my company owns and operates the Times-Picayune and www.nola.com?); he said no (I'd say more but I promised not to complain about my job here). I also applied to FEMA. I haven't heard anything yet, but a friend who applied a few days before me has been accepted. And it turns out they might not be sending him to New Orleans at all, but maybe to some remote FEMA office. Many of the jobs they've got are of the processing-claims-and-distributing-money type, and that won't be done from the center of the wreckage, obviously.
And I want to get my hands dirty, and I want to be there. I want to be aware of the devastation from my own perspective, and I want to see the direct effects and benefits of my actions. Mostly, I want to be among the people, to see how they keep living their lives as we did up here after September 11th.
So I'm putting together a crew of like-minded volunteers and heading down there, and we're going to sign up with some relief orgs. I'm looking into the options, at sites like The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition and The Urban Conservancy. Of course, Habitat for Humanity is an obvious choice. My Cajun friends should be un-evacuated by then, and they are getting me in touch with some other volunteer groups. One way or the other, we'll find a way to help out.
We're heading down November 10, just in time for Veteran's Day. If you have a long weekend and want to join in, let me know.