Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas in August 2005. The world watched its path of destruction in disbelief. We then
watched in horror as the levee system that protected New Orleans failed. Various organizations responded to the desperate
need for help in all aspects of life from search and rescue to basic human needs. Here in Winnipeg, I was one of millions
watching the unfolding events and wishing there was something I could do to help. I was in my second year of my Child and
Youth Care Diploma at Red River College. My entire class was watching and discussing the events in New Orleans while
balancing the many classes and assignments that are part of the course. It became the focus of conversation on breaks and in
some of our classes. It was from these discussions that talk of how we could help developed. One of my fellow classmates,
Melissa Degroot, said that she had seen a call for help in Louisiana on CYC-Net and that she would go if it weren’t for school. I
pointed out that we did have a practicum block coming up in November. I emailed the originator of the call, Frank Eckles, that
night and the rest as they say is history.
The entire class became involved in the process of organizing how we could get there. Only 9 students were able to go, but we
couldn’t have done it without the support and help of the classmates that stayed behind. There were a lot of factors that had to
fall into place for a New Orleans practicum experience to fall into place. We had to raise funds, find a placement that would
provide room and board for all of us going, our faculty created additional training for those going, as well as a criteria for who
would go. The energy and support thrown behind the project was phenomenal. In the end, we were in New Orleans for three
weeks as practicum students at a facility called Hope Haven. It was a life changing experience. We had the privilege of meeting
and working with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They ensured that we not only had a place to eat and live
but that we had an opportunity to see and experience New Orleans.
There are no words to describe the devastation or to express the feelings that were raised by the stories of loss and survival that
we heard. The Staff and the youth at Hope Haven were a testament to resiliency. We may have provided them with a fresh set of
hands and a listening ear, but they gave us as much in return. All of us came home from the experience; better youth care
practitioners and strengthened human beings. We learned the importance of connection and relationship building. We tested
new skills under fire. Most importantly, we learned that our profession is essential and adaptable, and something to be proud of.
The field of youth care can come together in a crisis and support each other as professionals. It was an important lesson and
experience for me. It became more than a practicum experience. It became my professional dream.
On our return home, there were issues that arouse. We had experienced something others had not and crossing that language
barrier was also a learning experience. It remains a tool I have added to my tool belt as a youth worker when working with youth
that have experiences out of my realm of comprehension. Classes resumed and life went on back here in Winnipeg but I, like so
many others, kept thinking about our experiences back home. I began to explore the possibility of creating an international
organization that would be able to do exactly what we had done in New Orleans on a permanent basis. I began to discuss the
possibilities with people who had been involved in the New Orleans experience. There was a positive response to the concept.
It has been a slow but steady process. Small group discussions lead to research done by Red River College on the volunteer
experience. The results of the research were presented at the International Conference in 2009. It supports not only the creation
of such and agency but, and most importantly, the experience of volunteering during a crisis. Our profession is capable of
changing the way agencies face emergencies and in how we support the youth that we are all passionate about when they are
faced by times of crisis.
In 2005, this web site published an appeal from Frank Eckles of the ACYCP for child and youth care
practitioners to journey down to New Orleans to work specifically with child and youth care facilities
that were impacted by the hurricane. Over the years since, I have been inviting anyone linked to the
story to write about it. Jessica Lusk, President of the Child and Youth Care Workers Association of
Manitoba and co-chair of Making Connections was one of the students who went down. She
agreed to share her experiences here. Jessica and the group of students she went with were
definitely innovators taking caring a full nation away and into a different culture under extreme
stress. It is an unfortunate coincidence that five years on the earthquake in Haiti may ultimately
bring similar opportunities to help as that nation heals its injured and gathers its wits to rebuild. At
this time, there simply is no room for such intervention. However, a donation to a reputable
organization such as the Red Cross or the Mennonite Central Committee, among others, will do
much to hasten that rebuilding. Should the call come to volunteer for children and youth, Jessica is
ready to respond.
|New Orleans: Implications for Youth Care