Trying to [Re]build a Better South
Rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is going to take a lot more than putting houses back up. Letting residents have a say in their own future, and supporting self-help efforts are top priorities, too. Grantmakers will have to get creative.
Kathy Pinn and her husband Ron500 miles from their Waveland, Mississippi, homewalked into a darkened theatre in downtown Dalton, Georgia, on a cool Friday night in January. While Paul Simon's "My Little Town" played through the sound system, before and after photos of Waveland were projected on a big screen. The befores showed a modest, sunny beachfront community, complete with a sweet little all-American main street.
The aftersafter Hurricane Katrinashowed how Category 5 winds and a 34-foot storm surge left nothing but rubble for more than 62 miles along the coast. Waveland, once home to 8,000 people, was wiped off the map.
"Those pictures made us cry," says Kathy Pinn.
But the evening, actually, was quite upbeat: The Pinns were guests at a benefit concert that raised $25,000 for the Dalton-based Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia's newly created Fund for Waveland. After a night of folk, gospel, jazz and rock 'n' roll played by local musiciansDavid Aft, in dual roles as guitar player and community foundation president, among themthe Pinns headed home the next day with a big fat check and the promise of more to come soon. The people of Dalton have, in effect, adopted the people of Waveland.
"We're able to act as an intermediary from community to community," says Aft. Several donors had asked how to help for the long haul, after the Red Cross tended to emergency needs and moved on. "We got out and visited a number of places," says Aft, "and we really like the spirit of Waveland. Come hell or high water, they're determined to rebuild their town."
Make that hell and high water.
Having a Voice
Dorothy Stukes, born and reared in New Orleans, had her share of that hell. Before Katrina she had worked in Orleans Parish schools for 15 years. After Katrina, she spent four oppressive days and nights in the New Orleans Superdome before finding temporary shelter in Houston. In her words, "I was treated like an animal, with soldiers pointing guns at me like I'd done something wrong instead of being uprooted by a national tragedy." That humiliating experience motivated her to start the Katrina Survivors Association within ACORN, a nationwide group that advocates for low- and middle-income people.
Overall, what ACORN/Katrina Survivors Association (AKSA) wants is for residents of New Orleans and other areas affected by the storms to have a voice in the rebuilding process.
In February, Stukes and about 500 other survivors now living in Texas and Louisiana boarded buses and came east for two days of rallies on Capitol Hill. ("Right of Return" said one marcher's poster; "Rally! Organize!" said another. "Failed Everyone Money Again" charged a hand-drawn sign made by nine-year-old rally participant Quincy Lewis, who came with his mom from Dallas.)
ACORN/Katrina Survivors representatives met with congressional leaders and with David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and pressed for fair treatment of displaced residents. The February rally got good press for a day or two, but several participants said they feared that, as time ticks by, their concerns are becoming less newsworthy and less of a priority for lawmakers. ("We will not be forgotten!" said another poster).
The Red Cross announced on February 3 that it has now received sufficient donations to cover the $2.1 billion cost of its response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. A week later, FEMA said it was ending its hotel/motel emergency sheltering program subsidies for most displaced families.
While it is tempting to think this means the emergency phase is indeed over, Stukes and AKSA point out that dire hardships remain for hundreds of thousands of displaced households. Lorna Bourg, president of the Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) in New Iberia, Louisiana, reports that her organization is still acting as a first responder in some of the rural areas it serves. "In January, I came across a family living in a tent," she says. "FEMA hasn't been there."
Even now, some six months after the disaster, many evacuees feel stuck: They want to go home, but no appreciable progress has been made in restoring long-term housing. Jobs are scarce, schools are marginally operational, and some areas still lack such basics as reliable utilities or a grocery store.
Waveland, Mississippi, has about 40 percent of its residents back, most living in FEMA trailers as they prepare to put their houses back up. Kathy Pinn works in a trailer across the parking lot from city hall, also in a trailer. There's talk of merging Waveland schools with Bay Saint Louis, the next town over, as neither has enough students now. "Next year will be tough," says Pinn, who wonders how they can collect property taxes to fund basic services, such as a fire department.
"If it was just a matter of scrubbing off the mold and moving back in, I'd be back home right now doing it myself," says Theresa Fields of New Orleans, who came to the Capitol Hill ACORN rally. For the time being, she is living halfway across the country in Takoma Park, Maryland.
But she can't do what needs to be done by herself. There is so much more to contend with before getting back to normal.
Fields wants to know if the levee will be fixed so another disaster won't destroy her neighborhood again. Or if the land where her house once stood is now toxic. Or if eminent domain will be used to claim properties out from under people. She thinks she'll be staying on the East Coast for at least five years, now that her three daughters are enrolled in Maryland schools. But she intends to return home to Louisianasome day.
So, just how long is long term? And, what exactly is normal?
"We'll know that the job is done," says George Penick, director of the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, "when people feel that they have their lives back."
One Man's Manifesto
George Penick has given plenty of thought to the question of how foundations can help Katrina survivors get their lives back. He practically lives that question night and day. At the RAND institute, it's his job to bring people together to "develop a long-term vision and strategy" for the region.
When the levee was breached and New Orleans filled up with water, Penick happened to be away from home, in an Arkansas hotel, watching CNN like the rest of America. At the time, he was president of the Jackson, Mississippi-based Foundation for the Mid South (FMS), a regional grantmaker he'd led since it was established in 1990. Horrified by those televised images, Penick was moved to write an editorial about grantmakers and the rebuilding process.
"The big question," Penick wrote, "is whether [philanthropic] money will be used to rebuild shattered communities in ways that are equitable and just or whether it will largely be invested in ways that simply re-establish racial and social inequities." (The article, "What Philanthropy Owes Katrina's Victims," ran September 15, 2005, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.)
In truth, quite a number of thoughtful editorials have been published on the subject of grantmakers having an opportunity to "rebuild both buildings and civic culture," as one worded it. But it was Penick who early, strongly and widely urged foundation colleagues to abandon business-as-usual funding procedures for now and to do the following:
The Foundation for the Mid South, itself without power or phones for nearly a week, began to get calls from donors outside of the region in search of advice on funding strategies. Penick recalls thinking it would be a good idea to gather funders, intermediaries and community leaders together in one room to talk about what was needed. Hasty arrangements were made, and on September 15, nearly 100 people showed up for a day-long meeting in a space provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. Some participants from areas affected by Katrina gave emotionally charged reports; others, from elsewhere, were there to size up potential collaborators. Some came looking for "the plan," but, according to Southeastern Council on Foundations President Martin Lehfeldt, it was clear that they weren't going to be discussing a single coordinated master plan. Instead, "there will be a lot of focused strategies."
Funders Planning Ahead
Bill Somerville, president of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation in Oakland, California, came out to the Memphis meeting but didn't go directly back home. He flew to Baton Rouge to take stock of the nonprofit response in that city, where the population doubled practically overnight as evacuees fled floodwaters.
There Somerville came across a "no-nonsense" operation called SWAN. Formally known as the Southern Women's Action Network, it is a three-year-old group of 50 volunteers. While it didn't start as a disaster relief organization, SWAN's stated mission always was "to respond to pressing community needs through deliberate and immediate action." The group took on as much relief work as it could handle, doing everything from cooking meals for overworked police officers to bringing underwear and bedding to people in shelters.
There is no staff or even an executive director, says Elizabeth Querbes, whose cell phone is its main point of contact. Most of the volunteers either work full time or are full-time moms, she says, but they pitch in as needed when asked. Many opened their homes on short notice to house out-of-towners after the hurricane. SWAN has close ties to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and often gets referrals to help do things that the foundation doesn't, such as give cash to individuals.
Somerville was president of the Peninsula Community Foundation in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco. He later wrote a booklet on community foundations and disaster response, which is where he got the idea for his new program.
Back home after Baton Rouge, Somerville created a system that permits his grantees to act quickly should disaster strike in the future. It consists of a one-page agreement called an MOUshort for "memorandum of understanding"and it works like this: Philanthropic Ventures Foundation sends out a one-page letter to an organization with which it has an existing relationship. The letter states that in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake, flood or fire, Philanthropic Ventures pre-authorizes the organization's leaders to use their own money or personal credit to cover emergency expenses up to a certain dollar amount ($10,000, or $25,000, for example). If all agree, the document is signed.
Thus, the grantee is ready to react on a moment's notice, confident that the foundation guarantees reimbursement.
One of the ten Philanthropic Ventures Foundation grantees that got an MOU this winter is the Prescott Joseph Center for Community Enhancement in West Oakland, California. Run by Dr. Washington Burns, a retired pathologist, the center offers immunizations and a senior wellness program, among other services, in a low-income community. Burns happily signed the MOU. "I welcome the opportunity to plan ahead a little bit," he says. "They didn't do enough of that in New Orleans."
We Never Did This Before, But . . .
Before Katrina, the Foundation for the Mid South never made grants to individuals. FMS never made bridge grants to nonprofits in need of shortterm cash flow. FMS avoided donor-advised funds, because it didn't want to compete with community foundations. And, FMS didn't make grants outside of its three-state area.
After Katrina, they're doing all of the above. Entergy Power launched the Power of Hope Fund with a $1 million corporate donation, intended to provide direct relief to its customers and employees. In two short months, a whopping 25,000 applications came in. That was the first donoradvised fund at FMS. Now there are four more, each directed at a specific aspect of Katrina relief.
"We took on things we never planned for, but [that] simply needed to be done," says Penick. "Once in a while, you just need to take a ready-fire-aim approach and adjust as the situation changes."
Doug Bauer and his colleagues at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) in New York City knew that a number of funders would see the disaster as one of those extraordinary times. They also knew that many of them would not have any experience making grants in the South.
"We have good contacts there, so we wanted to get the word out about what we knew," says Bauer. So, they drafted a three-page memo, including short descriptions of four groups identified as having strong community ties. The idea was to provide neighbor-to-neighbor alternatives to sending a check to such giant national groups as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army.
The memo was distributed in early September to 1,500 names from the RPA database and also to the Association of Small Foundations' members.
When Richard Woo, chief executive officer of the Russell Family Foundation of Gig Harbor, Washington, got the memo, he had already started looking for a grassroots-level organization to fund. The foundation, which almost never funds outside Washington state, had only once before given a disaster relief grant, and that was after the 2004 tsunami. After reading the RPA memo, the board agreed to send $5,000 for general support to SMHA, one of the four recommended groups. (The other three were Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Foundation for the Mid South and Enterprise Corporation of the Delta/Hope Community Credit Union.)
The Power of Trust
Most grantees will tell you the less restricted the grant, the better. Lorna Bourg of the SMHA will tell you that some well-intentioned restricted grants are not just onerous, but impossible. One funder offered $10,000 toward the repairing of teachers' homes in Cameron Parish. But Cameron Parish was completely destroyedthere not only were no teachers, but also no schools or homes left to patch up. Bourg gently offered alternatives.
The best grantmaking of all, says Bourg, takes place when she gets out and lets people talk and tell her their priorities. Recently, she visited the utterly devastated town of Jean Lafitte in lower Jefferson Parish. The smartest thing to do, the mayor told her, was to get the restaurants down by the shrimp boats going again. So SMHA sent some money to fix the roof on one of the tiny waterfront eateries. When the place was about to reopen, Hurricane Rita flooded it with three feet of water and sludge. With no electricity, inventory worth thousands of dollars was lost.
But the next time Bourg returned, she saw the woman's restaurant was open, complete with a new set of tables and chairs. How could she afford new furnishings? The owner said, "I put it all on my credit cardat 22 percent interest! All of the employees agreed that the first cash we earn is going to pay off the credit card." That's when Bourg offered her a gift of $5,000 from SMHA's unrestricted money.
"It's making an investment in the value of courage and self-help," says Bourg. "It's different from the FEMA-style model of giving based only on need."
Unfortunately there have been so many disasters in recent memory that it's almost become standard practice for foundations to call any grantees in harm's way and ask how they are doing. After Katrina, funders such as the F.B. Heron and Ford foundations in New York and the C.S. Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan, got on the phone with their southern partners right away. Bourg was on the receiving end of several such calls. One in particular stands out: Rick Foster of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, phoned early on to say that $1 million was on its way.
"God bless him," says Bourg, "Rick didn't ask for two inches of paperwork, either."
Before Katrina hit, the Marguerite Casey Foundation of Seattle was already providing multiyear, general support funding to a number of programs that encourage citizen activism in lowincome communities in the South. ACORN is one of them. Afterwards, Casey sped up the disbursementsshortening three-year grants to two years, for examplegiving grantees a chance to come back for more funding sooner.
"We were supporting strengthening citizen voices before, and the need has only become more intense," says Cynthia Renfro, a program officer at Casey.
There's a historic disconnect regarding advocacy in the South, she says, and the work involves changing attitudes that go back as far as the Civil War. Says Renfro, "I expect we'll need at least a generation to get this work done. You're looking at the memories of all the children who had to leave home. Who will, and who won't come back?"
WAVELAND, BEFORE: David and Kimberly King's home, August 28, 2005. Photos courtesy Kimberly King.
WAVELAND, AFTER: David and Kimberly King's home, September 2, 2005.
SELF-DETERMINATION: Several rallies organized by ACORN have put out the message that residents want to have a say in how the post-hurricane rebuilding is done. "We no longer want to be talked about," says Tanya Harris, an ACORN organizer. "We want to do the talking for ourselves." Above, Louisiana ACORN members marching in Baton Rouge for the right to return and rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward and other New Orleans neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of ACORN.
Overwhelming damage. Where to begin? Photo courtesy David Bailey.
After the hurricane: Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. Photo courtesy David Bailey.
"THEY'RE SAVING HOUSES," says Cynthia Renfro of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a supporter of ACORN and its Home Clean-Out Demonstration Program, which has helped prevent further decay at 700 homes in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. ACORN Services crews remove debris, rip out drywall to remove mold and tarp roofs to prevent further water damage. Above, one of the first houses in the program. On the door it says, "I'm staying put." Photo courtesy of ACORN.
Jody Curtis, former longtime executive editor of Foundation News & Commentary, is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland (Jodydcurtis@aol.com).