Monday, April 17, 2006

Inspiration of the Week – Katrina Suvivor (Thriver?) Lena Revolta

I left for the holiday weekend with many thoughts of the future on my mind, and included in those thoughts were the direction for my blog. My blog traffic is increasing, and what’s more, the number of really high-quality comments has also increased as well. My thoughts and views are consistently challenged, which I believe means other people’s preconceptions are being challenged as well. I have a new face for the blog that is about to be released, a collaborative project with Matt Urdan on the horizon, and a new presidential campaign to promote, as I hope that somehow the voice of the bloggers can become loud enough united to gain a bit of notice.

And here is the key to me: the blog, I hope, will push people to make a difference. To me, it doesn’t matter if you agree with me or disagree, but making a difference is a great thing, in my view, and the key to improving our world. If we all make a bit of difference, we can rock the world! The day before leaving I found the site Choosing Hope, which concludes with one of my favorite quotes, by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Words to live by, if you ask me.

Well, I can’t help but notice that as I examine the dangers that face the world today, I don’t spend enough time focusing on the positives that the world has to offer. I have written pieces about Moni (I have an update for a future post) and Zeyad, and I decided this is a great thing. So from now on, I’m going to endeavor to write about a weekly inspiration. Some of these inspirations I will find, on my blog or others, and some I’m hoping you can help me find. I will give 100 BE credits to anyone who submits an Inspiration of the Week that I use. In the meantime, right on to my first inspiration: Lena Revolta.

I met Lena in Philly, where my cousin, who’s a complete mensch, was helping her of a jam. And while she is modest to the point of being self-effacing, the truth is she’s an amazing woman. She is a 37 year old school teacher from New Orleans, teaching challenged kids in one of the worse areas of the city, grades 6-8. She is the daughter of divorced parents; her father lives a few blocks away from her and was the victim of a stroke in early 2005, leaving him wheelchair bound, while Lena’s mother shares time between New Orleans and Massachusetts.

On August 24th 2005, Lena got first word that Katrina could be a big storm. She monitored the storm, and decided on the 26th that it was time to leave. Her father’s nurse had decided to vacate the city, and despite the fact that Lena had never cared for her father since the stroke, she packed him and some clothes in the car and headed to Memphis. When she got to Memphis, her mother called her and suggested that Memphis wasn’t far enough West to avoid the storm. So the two head on to Little Rock, AR, where she rented a room for a couple weeks. Her motel, and seemingly the whole city, was packed with people from New Orleans, people from her childhood who she hadn’t seen in years. Still, she had no resources or government relief, so she knew this was temporary.

During this time, Lena had a friend check out her home and her father’s home. Lena’s home was in very good shape, although it now sports the “blue roof”, a tarp covering what used to be the roof that has evidently become pretty commonplace in New Orleans. Her father’s house was destroyed, a total loss. Lena wanted to return to her home, but Mayor Nagin had indicated people weren’t going to be allowed into the city for as much as 6 months. Lena was paid for a couple weeks of work where she was out of the city, but it was clear that this would not continue indefinitely. Lena tried in vain to get information from the school as to when she needed to return to work, so she ordered a FEMA van for her father to live in and left for Massachusetts until she heard further news.

Lena only just reached her mother’s when she received news that the school expected back on October 3rd to teach. Lena hustled back to New Orleans, but could only get back by the 5th, so she was docked 2 days of vacation. Upon arrival, she found no FEMA van for her father, so she took him in; she’s fortunate to have good friends who were willing to build a ramp so that Lena’s apartment could be wheelchair accessible. Many schools did not open, so the kids left in the city went to any school they could get to, resulting in classes with children Lena has never met before. Certainly, these were far from optimal conditions.

But Lena maintains a positive perspective. She feels fortunate to have only lost her roof in the storm, and that her closest family and friends are safe. She filled her van up with the majority of her clothes, and donated them to the other teachers who had lost so much, doesn’t have much herself. She received the insurance on her father’s home, and combined with some of her own money she purchased a house for her father closer to her home, where she can help take care of him. And last week, 7 months after her request, she received her FEMA van.

I asked her what she thought of Mayor Nagin, and she gave a great response: “I voted for Nagin, hew was better than most until Katrina. And even when he was going crazy, he was at wits end, I still would have voted for him. Until that ‘Chocolate City’ comment. I was so embarrassed, embarrassed at the looting, at everything, it just lasted so long, people should have been there faster, and it just got worse, he let it get worse…”

When I asked about taking care of her father for so long, she indicated the car was very difficult for her father, that it hurt him to be sitting up in the car for so long, but there was no assistance offered, or asked for, so she took it upon herself to get her father out of the area. And when I suggested that she acts like she did nothing special, she said “I just did what I had to do. What else could I do?” That, folks, is my inspiration of the week!

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Posted by Scottage at 2:55 AM / | |