Do you have a story about Hurricane Katrina to share?
August 29th, 2014 marked the 9th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In reaction to the fact that she heard almost nothing in the news about the anniversary, Niki was inspired to collect stories. Her work focuses on people who volunteered in the aftermath of the hurricane, as well as those who were helped. Niki’s goal is to ensure that this part of the story is told for the 10th anniversary next year.
Here’s to storytelling as a form of activism and memory.
What is motivating you to collect stories about Katrina?
I have held a variety of roles—from small to national—leading volunteerism. And I have a very personal connection to what happened during Katrina because of family members. I feel like the national attention of the 10th anniversary provides an excellent time to gain attention for the win:win:win of volunteerism.
What is your own Katrina story?
My brother-in-law and his wife prepared for Katrina as best they could, by “buttoning up” their home and her dental practice. When we talked with them on Sunday, we were concerned that they planned to stay slightly inland from Pass Christian (at her parent’s house). When the storm finally arrived, I was glued to television and the internet while the rest of the world went on, not realizing the magnitude of what was going on.
It took two days before we were sure they were fine. It took a month before we could fly into New Orleans and then drive through roadblocks and devastated (and yet uncleared) area after area to get to Pass Christian to help them with recovery. Even typing this now makes my anxiety level rise in a disconcerting way.
America went on with professional sports and stupid television and news of terrorism. By the time I was back home (after a week of helping with recovery), no one cared. I couldn’t sleep. I was so anxious over the fact that our country had moved on.
We have been back about a dozen times since the storm. People outside of the area think the disaster was in New Orleans, and they think recovery is in the past. We know better.
How do you see Katrina as linked to issues of water and climate change?
I see Katrina, as well as issues of water and climate change, as all related to the damage created by our culture of greed.
What do you hope for the future?
I hope that the best keeps coming out. Countless Americans have given their time and energy to disaster recovery, and their work goes largely unsung. I hope that we stop glorifying terrible role models like Justin Bieber or the latest NFL abuser in favor of our best heroes.
What is the power of storytelling in creating this future?
Each of us needs to tell and tell and tell.
If someone wants to share a story with you, how can they be in touch?
As past national director for volunteer service and learning for the YMCA, Monica Niki Elenbaas has seen over and over how service benefits both the giver and received. Personally, helping family with recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast led to a life-changing experience with the clean-up. Nearly a decade later, the recovery is far from over and that the storm’s continuing impact reveals a great deal about the best and worst of our country. Niki is collecting stories about people who volunteered in Katrina’s aftermath, as well as those who were helped, to help ensure that this part of the story is told for the 10th anniversary in 2015.