kindness activist

kindness activist

Monday, November 14, 2016

Louisiana Kindness

Most of us look at federal holidays as a DAY OFF WORK.  Holidays are a day to sleep in, maybe go skiing, hit the mall, etc.

But Stephanie isn’t “most of us”.  No, Stephanie heard “holiday” and she thought something like, “Time to organize some friends, hit the road, and HELP OUT”.  Yes, it’s people like Stephanie that jump in and get things done, KIND THINGS, when they need doing.  But here’s the thing, she doesn’t want to brag about it…  She isn’t in it for the attention.  She told me, “My father taught me and my sister the importance of random acts of kindness as a daily task, a way of life - even if it’s just smiling at a stranger. It’s just so natural to me to want to get involved and do what I can that it makes me feel a tad silly that it’s considered “special” somehow, you know?”  Oh, I KNOW what you mean, girl, but I truly believe that if other people hear about your kindness, they will be inspired to get out there and spread some kindness around themselves!  So, as awkward as it felt, she agreed to let me share her story.  Here’s the scoop:

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina wrought devastation on Louisiana.  Stephanie, a Texan and single mom of 3 year old Grace, was supposed to go on a vacation that Labor Day weekend, the first one she had been able to afford in quite a while.  Only, instead of going on vacation, she took Grace with her and they volunteered at a grassroots relief organization in South Austin.  How is THAT for a model of kindness and compassion for a child?  They helped the organization work on transportation, relocation of victims, and other things that the big organizations were ill equipped to handle. 

Fast forward to 2016.  Louisiana is hit by another terrible flood.  Grace, the little girl who helped her mom work on flood relief in Louisiana from afar 11 years ago, is now 14 and has been joined by toddler sister Ilona.  Being a single mom of two, Stephanie couldn’t just write a check to help with the relief effort and call it a day (and something tells me that isn’t her style, anyway…) so she set about ORGANIZING.  Ilona would go spend Labor Day weekend with her father, and the “big girls” would head out of town to help out doing physical labor. 

Road Trip - but devastation on the side of the road
Stephanie started researching and found her friend Patty, who lives in New Orleans, was working on some of the hardest hit areas.  Well there you go – plan hatched!  Stephanie and her friend Cara (from North Texas) rounded up what she calls “10 phenomenal humans” from Texas (mostly Austin) to work on “mucking and gutting a house in Louisiana”.

Let me just reiterate here:  this was LABOR DAY WEEKEND.  The rest of us were roasting hot dogs and shopping mattress sales, and this amazing group was making an 11 hour drive to help strangers deal with an awful situation!

Wonderful people housed some of them (even people they had never met were welcome to stay), Patty housed others, and some others found their own accommodation.  Cara had organized a meeting with Hands On, a group that was, “bringing groups of people out to the hardest hit areas to remove damaged belongings and construction material from homes, provide some mold remediation and cleaning”. 

The team of amazing volunteers!  Brian, Xaviera, Scott, Patty, Ellen, Dotti, Cara Ross, Kristine,
Grace (Stephanie's daughter) and our Kindness Activist herself, Stephanie.  Aren't they beautiful??
The team was assigned to work with Mike and Pat on their place in Hammond, LA.  They needed physical help, and these Texans brought it in spades!  The flood had happened 2 – 3 weeks before they arrived on site, which meant that mold had already had time to become a big problem.  Never having been in a serious flood situation myself, I had never thought much about the after effects of mold.  Stephanie explained, “The fall out of a natural disaster is ongoing and usually long after people stop sending aid. People often don't think about how bad mold can be, and how it can cost you truly EVERYTHING (you can contaminate your new lodgings easily with mold - we had to clean everything that was salvageable several times, but honesty, most things went straight to the dump and were a total loss).  It's the mold that definitely makes things much worse. According to FEMA, mold starts forming within 48 hours (Link to FEMA fact sheet here) . Even the houses themselves have to undergo a rigorous detox process, repeatedly- one spore will just restart the process and new items and materials will be contaminated.”

So, the team of friends donned hazmat suits, respirators, masks, goggles, etc. and got to work.  The mobile home had flood saturated carpet, furniture, and appliances that all had to be dealt with.  I asked Stephanie how she thought the owners of the home felt to have so many people willing to volunteer to come and help them.  She said, “Mike and Pat won us over immediately. They were so lovely. We all took some time to sit with them and listen to their stories, their shared histories, their hopes for the future. I know they appreciated what we did and we all left wishing we could have done more.“

They weren't doing what most Americans were that holiday weekend -
they were most certainly MAKING A DIFFERENCE
What a glowing example of kindness for her teenage daughter.  Stephanie told me, “I’m sad that help was needed at all, but grateful to have a chance to work with my amazing friends, who all helped make a tough situation a little less awful. I’m glad that I was able to have the opportunity to give my Grace a chance to be involved and for all the discussions that led up to the trip and all the conversations we’ve had about life after the trip. She was amazing throughout the weekend and I’m glad we could experience it together.”
Not many people are willing to sacrifice, pitch in, and give up valuable time to help out strangers.  But Stephanie, Grace, and friends made a HUGE difference that weekend.  They not only helped a family see the light at the end of the tunnel, they showed that couple that they are valued and that someone – 10 someones – care about their plight.

Some of the aftermath - people's possessions ruined
Let’s let Stephanie tie this story up in her own words:  “Life is full of things that we have absolutely no control over. I’m very committed to finding concrete ways that I can help where I can, even if my contribution is very tiny- I know it adds up. As a single mom with two girls, I don’t always have the time or money to be able to do the things I want, to make the change I want to see in the world- but I’m determined to do what I can, as often as I can.

I try to raise my young ladies the way my father raised me and my sister; taking action every chance we get will make the world a better place. I've always been a big fan of this quote, “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies- ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”  -Kurt Vonnegut”

You certainly nailed that one, Stephanie.  God damn it, YOU WERE KIND.

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