Five years ago this weekend, we witnessed the worst natural disaster in United States history.
At the time I was a reporter at The Times, and I would also argue it was the greatest outpouring of compassion we've ever witnessed.
I heard countless stories of people going out of their way to help others and organizations stretching beyond their boundaries. Many stories brought me to Volunteers of America and its many efforts -- sheltering evacuees, finding new apartments and jobs, providing scholarships for child care -- which were all fueled by your generosity.
Today, we bring you a few updates from those you helped and say thank you again for responding when the need was so overwhelming.
Helen Barrow and a volunteer pose at the PIRC booth at a back-to-school fair.
Helen already planned to come to Shreveport for her mother's birthday on Aug. 25, 2005.
Four days later, more than 9 feet of water poured into her New Orleans East home. The weekend at mom's turned into a month.
"I loved New Orleans and always said I would never come back (to Shreveport)," she said. "But that's why they say never say never."
With no home to return to, Helen retired from the New Orleans public school system, where she spent 31 years as a librarian, and set out to make a new life for herself here.
She found Dress for Success Shreveport-Bossier, and the program helped her replace some of her work wardrobe. She also connected with a case manager from Katrina Aid Today, a program administered by Volunteers of America.
With that help, she found a place to live and a new job as a parent educator with Volunteers of America's Parent Information and Resource Center. It was a perfect fit for the educator who worked in inner-city schools encouraging children and families to read.
"Parents and children are my heart and my passion," she said. "It's about giving back. Volunteers of America gave me that chance."
Five years later, Helen still misses New Orleans - especially the food - but she is happy with her new life and career here.
"Sometimes I wish I was back there, and then I come to my senses," she said. "I've met a lot of great people. I love the people I work with at PIRC. I love Volunteers of America."
Born and raised in New Orleans, Linda left the Ninth Ward the day before the storm and drove until the found a place to stay, which happened to be a church in Shreveport.
She was separated from her family and news from her hometown gave her little reason to hope. She enrolled her son in school and started looking for ways to return to normal.
Through the school, she learned of Volunteers of America. With her Katrina Aid Today caseworker, she found and furnished an apartment. Another of our relief programs purchased a van for her.
Looking to become a permanent resident, Linda applied for a Habitat home in Bossier. Her physical limitations made it hard to complete the sweat equity hours required, so Volunteers of America helped find people willing to donate hours toward her cause.
"It was a true blessing, when you're in a strange place and don't know nobody and don't know nothing," she said of Volunteers of America.
Today, she is working for the state Medicaid office and is happily settled here in northwest Louisiana.
In five years, Barbara went from losing everything to running a business recognized as one of the top small businesses in the community.
Read about her journey on our website
After a scary night riding out the storm in Houma, Lorenzo made it to the Highland Center with a group from the VA Hospital in New Orleans. He is now proud to call Bossier City home.
You can read the rest of his story Sunday in The Times.
By the numbers:
Volunteers of America of North Louisiana's Hurricane services:
- 22 people found shelter for up to three months at the Highland Center
- 16 children received scholarships for child care at the Highland Child Development Center
- 479 people with disabilities and mental illness received help with their Medicaid, Medicare and other benefits through our Employment Services.
- 900 people were receiving case management from our program a full year after the storm.