August 03, 2010

Rising from Katrina: Five years later

“Don’t give up. No matter what.” That’s the lesson Kathleen Koch wants readers to take away from her book, Rising from Katrina, a poignant account not only of the city of Bay St. Louis’ recovery following Hurricane Katrina, but that of the author herself.

A correspondent for CNN at the time, Kathleen was actually covering the story of Hurricane Katrina on the Alabama coast when the eye of the storm came ashore in Waveland, Mississippi on August 29, 2005. Kathleen grew up in Bay St. Louis and maintained close ties to the small Gulf Coast city even after moving to Washington, DC. Eager to check on friends and family living in the path of the hurricane, she made her way to her former hometown only to discover it was completely devastated by the storm.

As Director of Operation Playground for KaBOOM!, I spent a lot of time in Bay St. Louis and along the Gulf Coast as we fulfilled our promise to build 100 playgrounds in the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I was in awe of the people I met, how they could handle such horrible circumstances with so much grace, perseverance, and optimism. Kathleen provides a window into so many lives impacted by the storms in her book. They’ll make you cry; they’ll make you laugh. They’ll inspire you.

The time I spent in the Gulf was the hardest but most rewarding of my life. After each visit I was even more convinced that our work was a critical piece of the recovery effort. The children desperately needed places to shake the reality of the devastation. They needed to run, laugh and play and to remember what is was like to be kids again.

KaBOOM! built four playgrounds in Bay St. Louis, including both our first and 100th. The book is a moving testament to the strength of the people who live there and a valuable reminder to us all not only of our own hidden strength but also the power of community. Kathleen reminds us that while scores of volunteers from across the country helped rebuild the coast, at the core were neighbors helping neighbors, just as we see at our playground builds.

We were honored to have Kathleen volunteer at one of our builds and even more so that she chose to highlight our work in her book. I can still remember watching her mix concrete at what was then called Murphy-Gulfview Elementary School in Kiln in October, 2006. She worked harder than anyone that day, moving from one task to another, smiling all the while.

This August marks the five year anniversary since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. There has been remarkable progress in the last five years but so much remains to be done. We’ve built 134 playgrounds and will build 8 more this year. Our commitment is unwavering and we’re so grateful to the partners who have joined us in this effort.

There are lots of books available that describe Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. But for me, Rising from Katrina is much more. It’s a story about the triumph of the human spirit; how individually and collectively we can overcome even the most challenging odds and pull together to create positive change. We can all learn a lesson from Bay St. Louis.

Visit www.kathleenkoch.com to learn more about Kathleen or to purchase a copy of Rising from Katrina. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to organizations continuing to help rebuild Bay St. Louis and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

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