The model that emerged reflects SMHA’s philosophy of self-help, an entrepreneurial approach, and an emphasis on family and community development. It relies upon listening and learning, gathering community intelligence, and the “power of the story” rather than upon documentation and “eligibility” qualification. The model builds community by engaging a network of partners in community to help identify those families who best fit SMHA’s criteria for participation: a need for recovery assistance, willingness for “self-help” participation in their own recovery, and a spirit of generosity and appreciation.
To ensure outreach across the state, SMHA established two staging areas, one in lower Jefferson Parish for hurricane recovery in the eastern parishes, and one in St. Mary Parish for the western parishes. SMHA hired field coordinators based from these staging areas and established a disaster recovery field director, based in SMHA’s New Iberia office, to oversee all field work of the coordinators and volunteers in the rebuilding and development phases of the recovery response.
SMHA also addressed the policy framework needed to support field recovery in isolated rural communities. SMHA proposed that FEMA make re-entry kits available to residents returning to hurricane-devastated areas to help protect their health and, with the assistance of Oxfam America, distributed sample re-entry kits in two communities, attracting media coverage that helped educate the public about the dangers of re-entry. SMHA also arranged for and testified at a Joint Senate and House legislative committee hearing on the health and environmental threats related to the hurricanes and worked with and made policy recommendations to the Governor’s office, the legislature and other agencies.
SMHA led the way in getting an amendment adopted during a special legislative session to assure that the Louisiana Recovery Authority give due consideration to the non-profit organizations involved in the recovery, especially those licensed in Louisiana as residential contractors, and Lorna Bourg presented information and made policy recommendations to the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Hurricane Rita’s devastating impact on rural Louisiana.
SMHA and partner Center for Rural Strategies produced a video on Hurricane Rita’s impact on rural Louisiana to help draw attention to the need for recovery in “forgotten” rural areas of the state, and SMHA’s Lorna Bourg and Denise Galatas featured the video in presentations they made across the country.
For over a decade after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, SMHA recovered 1,064 homes, businesses and churches in 120 villages, small towns, cities and settlements using $10.5 Million in private donations. During this time, SMHA was, in many communities, the “only game in town” as rural Louisiana communities were largely overlooked and under-assisted by government agencies and national charities in the aftermath of the storms. For the Katrina/Rita response, SMHA recruited and coordinated over 6,000 volunteers from 44 states and 10 countries. Volunteers provided skilled and unskilled labor and worked with families and business owners themselves to rebuild, coupled with technical assistance and grants and/or loans from SMHA.