With the exception of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina stole a couple of months of publishing time from us, Gambit Weekly each year honors a group of people for the contributions they have made to the city and the promise their career and community-minded paths hold for the future. This year's group, all under the age of 40, includes athletes, musicians, organizers, youth, educators, physicians and a host of others who once again prove that wisdom and good works aren't products of years but of passion and ambition.
Theresa Andersson, 35 Musician and Music Educator
When the Saints finally returned to the Superdome to host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, it was a homecoming game in the truest sense, a day of celebration when local life paraded down Poydras Street. One of the pied pipers for this parade was Theresa Andersson, who grew up far away on a farm in Sweden.
"Of all the people they could have asked to perform and for them to ask me, it was such an honor," Andersson says of the invitation to play on Poydras Street that day.
Andersson first moved to New Orleans nearly 17 years ago with fellow Swedish transplant Anders Osborne. The two earned a contract with Sony Records after paying their dues with gigs in local bars. When the couple parted ways, Andersson opted to move to Nashville to try to break into the Music City's scene and "to find my own way, to find my own strength." During her time away, Andersson faced rejection by big-name labels but found her own sound, applying a rock edge to her violin. She also found out how much she missed New Orleans.
"The city has embraced me," Andersson says. "Being from another country, it feels really nice to feel so rooted here."
Andersson established more local roots when she married New Orleans native Arthur Mintz, drummer for acclaimed group World Leader Pretend. While Andersson is at work on another album for Basin Street Records and recently performed songs for a number of movie soundtracks, she and Mintz have moved into another area: music education.
With a group called the Betcha Can Cans, Andersson and Mintz perform music in schools statewide in a program to teach self-esteem. Next year, the project will expand to include local music history and heritage.
"A lot of the kids aren't aware of the amazing heritage they have here," she says. "It's nice to be able to share what I know about music, but it's nice because the experience educates me so much as well." -- Etheridge
Ashish Verma, 38 General Manager, Windsor Court Hotel
You could call it a field promotion. Hired in May 2005 as assistant general manager of the Windsor Court Hotel, Ashish Verma became general manager of the luxury hotel at a time when conditions in New Orleans were at their most martial and least accommodating.
But Verma had some unique experience with handling crises, having previously worked in hotel management in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the utility blackout there in 2003. Perhaps more important, Verma learned lessons instilled by his father, a general in India's army.
"He taught me the three C's in a crisis. Stay calm, use common sense and communicate, and that's what I did," he says.
Guests were safely evacuated under escort two days after Hurricane Katrina, and a day later the hotel was able to thwart would-be looters who tried to break in. When two five-story buildings across the street caught fire, collapsed and ignited trees and awnings around the Windsor Court, Verma and his staff organized bucket brigades to douse the flames with water from the hotel's pool.
After the initial crisis, Verma almost immediately shifted gears toward recovery and reopening. The official reopening came Nov. 1, 2005, but as early as mid-October last year, the hotel provided four floors of accommodations for President George Bush during his visit to the city.
"I knew it was important to demonstrate to the nation that major businesses were already back in New Orleans. It was vital for us to be open for the tourism business. That's the city's mainstay, and our team members were relying on us," he says, referring to the hotel's 300 employees.
The hotel's charitable activities since the storm include support for the public high school McDonough No. 35 and Habitat for Humanity. With the reopening of the New Orleans Grill and the return of the hotel's tea service, Verma reports the Windsor Court is fully back to normal. -- McNulty
James Perry, 31 Executive Director
Lucia Blacksher, 33 General Counsel
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
Anyone who has tried to find a place to live in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina knows the process is no picnic, with higher prices and lower availability combining to make the market very tight. When discrimination enters the picture, however, it becomes unjust and illegal. That's where the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) comes in.
This private, nonprofit civil rights organization was established in 1995 and is the only one of its kind in Louisiana that combines both educational outreach about fair housing rights and investigation of discrimination complaints.
At the helm are executive director James Perry and general counsel Lucia Blacksher. In the aftermath of the storm, they were the only staff the GNOFHAC had left as countless thousands of people from the region went on a desperate search for housing across the state. Now staff is back up to six people, but what also is climbing is the number of complaints flowing back to the GNOFHAC from across the state and cases the agency has taken up in response to municipal policies floated since the storm.
The most high-profile recent fights center on zoning issues such as moratoriums on multi-family housing and ordinances like one brought up in St. Bernard Parish that would allow landlords to rent only to blood relatives.
Perry says the biggest change since last year's storms is that discrimination in the housing market is much more brazen than before.
"What we're seeing is people stating their intent to discriminate," he says. "We even saw it on Web sites designed to help Katrina victims find housing. We'd see ads that would literally say, 'We're not racist, but whites only.'"
Contributing to the tide of cases is a greater willingness of people who believe they've been discriminated against to report it, spurred by the scarcity of housing options and their desperation to find a home.
"Let's say you have someone who in the past might have just accepted it as the way it is and moved on to the next apartment," says Perry. "Now, there is no next apartment for them. They're more inclined to call us because they don't have other options."
Both Perry and Blacksher credit the direction of their careers in part to the influence of their parents. Perry's father was a civil rights activist in the Birmingham area beginning in the 1960s, and Blacksher's father is a pioneering civil rights attorney in Alabama who works on desegregation and voting rights cases. Blacksher interned with the GNOFHAC while in Loyola Law School, and after earning her degree went to work as a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
"But all I could think about was coming back," she says. So when the general counsel job at the GNOFHAC opened up in 2004, she took it.
Perry began his career with the Preservation Resource Center, helping revitalize vacant properties and later started the first fair housing program in southern Mississippi. But he too yearned to come back home. He got his chance in January 2005, when the GNOFHAC's director position came up. -- McNulty
Corey Walsh, 36 Founder, Real Life Nutrition Counseling
The words "anxiety" and "depression" have been all too familiar companions for people in the New Orleans area living through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To dieticians like Corey Walsh, that can mean serious trouble because anxiety and depression are common triggers for people suffering from eating disorders.
"For a lot of people who need care, just giving them a meal plan isn't going to work because these disorders aren't just about food and weight," Walsh says. Instead, the problems can spring from a web of emotional and psychological issues that often take root during the developmental teenage years.
That makes early intervention key to preventing disorders or treating them before they can grow into life-threatening conditions. To this end, Walsh earlier this year shifted her professional focus to devote all her energies to Real Life Nutrition Counseling, the outpatient counseling practice she formed in 2001 while she also worked at other facilities. A new emphasis for Real Life Nutrition is programs for schools that emphasize proper nutrition and address issues of body image. The firm also is pursuing nutrition programs for school athletics programs for both teams and individual students.
A New Orleans native, Walsh originally studied radio production in college in preparation for a music-oriented career, but she soon discovered her passion for working with nutrition and eating disorders. Back home after school, she worked in outpatient and inpatient settings with some of the nation's premiere eating disorder specialists. Working with her clients and as a field consultant for psychiatric practices, she honed her expertise as a nutrition therapist promoting physical and emotional wellness in children and adults.
"It comes down to helping people make peace with food so they use it for fuel and for pleasure, too, but not as an emotional outlet," Walsh says. -- McNulty
Esteban Gershanik, 31 Physician
As the evacuation of New Orleans was in full gear following Hurricane Katrina, Esteban Gershanik was racing toward the city.
A doctor of internal medicine and pediatrics, Gershanik had been out of town before the storm struck, but he knew his services would be needed back home. He cared for ill and injured people stuck on the Causeway and at the airport, but a different sort of challenge awaited him when he made it to the post-disaster health-care headquarters in Baton Rouge.
"It was complete chaos, people were hopping in ambulances with no idea where they were going or what was going on," Gershanik says.
So he joined the effort to help organize operations, working with teams to get correct information on volunteer medical personnel and dispatch them where they were most needed. He also helped set up clinics for everything from vaccinations to mental health checkups for EMS staff working long hours in the disaster area.
Gershanik grew up in New Orleans, earned his bachelor's degree at Emory University in Atlanta and returned home to attend Tulane University, where he earned his medical degree and a master's degree in public health with a concentration on health systems management. Now he is in the third year of his medical residency at Tulane.
"My long-term goal is to be part of changing the health-care system," he says. "It seems inefficient, and I think anyone who has interacted with the system has experienced that, whether dealing with health insurance, not having insurance at all or the waste of duplicated services."
Gershanik believes there is an opportunity to make changes in the redesign of health-care delivery spurred by the hurricane. Timing is crucial, he says, since the population surge from Baby Boomers is beginning to draw more heavily on health-care services. "We need to do something to improve our system now before we're in serious trouble," he says. -- McNulty
Martin Morgan, 37 Director of Research, National World War II Museum
Fans lined up to meet Hollywood movie stars who attended a recent event at the National World War II Museum, but local veterans of the battle of Iwo Jima who were honored that day also were asked for their autographs by young admirers. Martin Morgan, director of research at the downtown museum, says that kind of connection between generations is an example of why the institution's work is important.
"We're here to teach the story of the teamwork, the sacrifice and the spirit of the people who won the war," he says. "There has to be a means of telling this story so that the legacy and lessons will remain. We can't allow this to pass into the realm of myth and legend."
The museum is in the midst of a $300 million expansion to greatly increase its scope from its original inception as the National D-Day Museum, and Morgan plays a key role in the research and acquisition of artifacts for its ever-growing exhibits.
Most recently, his work brought home the museum's largest artifact to date, a vintage C-47 American cargo plane that carried paratroopers during D-Day operations. Morgan found the aircraft for sale on eBay and was instrumental in its purchase and restoration.
The son of a career Army officer, Morgan was born on a military post and developed an early interest in history. He moved to New Orleans in 1998 to work at a law firm and became a volunteer for the nascent museum project. Here he got to know the museum's prime mover, the late historian Stephen Ambrose, who Morgan credits as his mentor.
Morgan joined the museum staff in 2000 and has since written the nonfiction book Down To Earth about a paratrooper unit during the war. He also has served as an advisor and expert source for numerous television documentaries. -- McNulty
Meredith Graf, 12
Artist and Student Photo by Mae Lizama He asked her to draw a garbage can. Jim McQueen, a nationally renowned illustrator, already had viewed examples of then-11-year-old Meredith Graf's drawings, and now he wanted see her at work. The result was a garbage can, but one that revealed promise. McQueen gave Graf's dad a list of art supplies and told him to bring her by the next day for her first lesson.
Jim McQueen had never taken on a student. But he realized the young girl, who he met in Hattiesburg, Miss., during her family's evacuation, wasn't just a kid fooling around; she was a prodigy. Her parents, Tom and Michelle, had known for a while -- likely as early as when Graf was 4 and proclaimed, "I am an artist."
Like so many artists, the storm affected Graf, but she wasn't overwhelmed by the destruction or the despair. When she watched President George Bush give his speech in front of St. Louis Cathedral, she saw the darkness, but she also found hope. She felt compelled to share her vision, giving her friends, family and strangers solace that the city would rebuild "because of all the help New Orleans would get from the president and others."
The result was Helping Hands, two painstakingly rendered drawings of the president's hands. Bush responded by sending her a care package of memorabilia and a kind note thanking her for the gift.
Graf hasn't let age prevent her from advancing her talent. When she found out the United States Congress sponsored an art contest, she entered, although it was only for high school students. Her effort, an oil painting of the state flag and a representation of Rep. Bobby Jindal's congressional district, so impressed the congressman that he had the painting hung in Congress.
Graf is the youngest person to ever receive this honor.
Twelve-year-old Graf continues her lessons with McQueen, traveling to Hattiesburg on the weekends. She says she already has put more than four hours into her newest project, a portrait of President Bush, which she has been invited to present to him in the Oval Office. -- Winkler-Schmit
Orlando Watkins, 35 Vice President of Programs, Greater New Orleans Foundation
When foundations, philanthropists and others want to make a monetary contribution to help New Orleans rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, many of them start by contacting Orlando Watkins, vice president of programs for the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF).
"In the post-Katrina world, people are looking for a trusted counsel to help guide their donations, and that's the role of the foundation," says Watkins, who joined the nonprofit a month after Katrina. "I get the calls from people saying, 'We want to help, so help us get to the committed and effective organizations out there.'"
Watkins comes to the job with extensive experience in youth development programs and capacity-building roles for nonprofits, most recently as director the Louisiana Serve Commission.
He had an early start in the field. While still a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Watkins helped found a private school aimed at closing the achievement gap for African-American children. He later used the proceeds from a prestigious Echoing Green fellowship to establish a mentoring program for African-American students called Inspiring Careers in Engineering, Mathematics and Science, which is run by NASA and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
More recently, he joined the board of the Urban League in New Orleans as part of a wave of new leaders working to revitalize the local organization, and he is a founding member of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit formed in March to support the city's new charter schools. He also is a board member of City Year Louisiana, a statewide youth service organization that began last year in Baton Rouge and is now beginning its pilot program for New Orleans.
"What we do is encourage and sustain civic participation, and we think it's a great program for this rebuilding community," he says. -- McNulty
Erin Romney, 27 Founder, Pilates Center
The prospect of caring for sea creatures at the Aquarium of the Americas originally drew Erin Romney to New Orleans five years ago, but it turns out she found her real niche helping people take better care of themselves. Along the way, she built a fast-growing health, fitness and wellness business at her Pilates Center on Magazine Street.
A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Romney was a competitive swimmer in college when she first discovered the therapeutic benefits of Pilates, a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the body. After graduating with a biology/chemistry degree, she headed to New Orleans with plans to work at the aquarium. When she got here, however, she discovered there was a budding interest in Pilates here and went to work as an instructor at hospitals, private clubs, studios and community centers. Before long, she realized that instead of keeping pace with this circuit of venues, her client base was strong enough to start her own business.
"I was doing different things at different places and seeing a lot of different groups of clients," Romney says. "I wanted to bring that all together in one place and create my own environment."
Romney also is certified in gyrotonics, a unique system of equipment and exercises that incorporates movement principles from yoga, dance, gymnastics, swimming and tai chi.
After two years in business, the Pilates Center is moving a few blocks down Magazine Street. With nearly twice as much space as before, Romney is creating an alternative therapy center with therapist-led mediation and stress-therapy classes, acupuncture, massage, yoga, spinning, Pilates and a retail center.
When Romney carves out time for herself, she often heads to the aquarium, the place that drew her to New Orleans in the first place, where she volunteers as a diver to care for sea creatures and their habitats. -- McNulty
Craig Stewart, 30 Motivational Speaker and Owner, Creative Motivational Services
When Craig Stewart speaks, you get the feeling the guy's on a mission, and he is. Stewart, a motivational speaker, believes he not only has to inspire New Orleans workers to perform their best but also to let corporations know the city is business-friendly.
"I want to change the mindset of how New Orleans is viewed," Stewart says. "I want people to say, 'Hey, we can do business here.' and 'We can train our people' so we can be globally efficient, not just good enough for New Orleans, but good enough for the world.' I know that it's going to take some time, but I'm willing to put in that time."
When it comes to getting what he wants, the New Orleans native is indefatigable. In 1998, Stewart was working at the Intercontinental Hotel, serving in the Marine Corps Reserves, and taking classes at Delgado Community College. The hotel brought in a motivational speaker, Dr. Michael Grant, to talk about employee morale. A man sitting next to Stewart kept nudging him throughout the presentation, whispering, "Hey, Craig, you said that the day before."
Afterwards, Stewart approached Grant, asking him how he became a motivational speaker. Grant took Stewart under his wing and for the next four years, free of charge, Stewart presented more than 1,000 hours of speeches to New Orleans public school students -- urging them to never give up on their dreams. He didn't just lecture the kids, he conducted extended question-and-answer sessions and discussed how they could take advantage of their "God-given talents."
Nowadays, Stewart travels the country presenting workshops on improving employee morale and getting workers directly involved in improving a business. It's all about developing pride, says Stewart, who also works as an employee trainer for Job 1 of New Orleans. There he teaches work ethics, interviewing skills and resume writing.
"I'm finding these different jewels in people and bringing them to light." -- Winkler-Schmit
Leonard Wiggins, 27 Engineer and Leader of Young Leadership Council's Neighborhood Renaissance Project
At his day job at Lockheed Martin's Michoud Facility, engineer Leonard Wiggins helps build components that lift NASA space shuttles into the heavens. His volunteer work, however, is much closer to the ground, helping teenagers and now a neighborhood get back on its feet.
Wiggins, a native of Suffolk, Va., moved to New Orleans for the Michoud job after earning a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. He quickly became involved with the professional volunteer organization the Young Leadership Council (YLC) and took on his first project as a basketball coach for its youth recreational program, working with kids from the B.W. Cooper public housing development.
"I liked it because there was a lot more going than basketball," he says. "It really became more like a mentoring program; you had to earn the respect and the trust of the kids."
He soon became co-leader of the YLC's entire recreation project. Hurricane Katrina suspended that work. Wiggins was dedicated to working for the city's recovery, however, and in 2006 was named vice president of projects for the YLC with a mandate to concentrate the group's energies on one neighborhood. This became the YLC's Neighborhood Renaissance Project, and the first area selected for attention was Central City. The project's aim is to help revitalize one neighborhood at a time with community service, enrichment programs and beautification efforts while developing local leaders for sustainable improvement. The work so far has included area cleanups, door-to-door crime surveys and work in local schools that have reopened so far.
Wiggins' own dream for the future is to open an affordable, private and nonreligious school aimed at African-American boys.
"It's a struggle for young African-American males, and I hope a school like the one I have in mind could increase their opportunities and hopefully deter some of the negative things that get so much attention now," he says. -- McNulty
David West, 26 Power Forward, New Orleans Hornets
Photos David West strives for improvement -- in his career and in the community where he lives. The strides he's made professionally are well documented.
The 6-foot-9 Hornets power forward experienced a roundball renaissance during the 2005-06 season. After two years of tentative play in a reserve role, he emerged as the team's leading scorer and rebounder and was runner-up in the voting for the NBA's most improved player.
The former first-round draft pick from Xavier (Ohio) University is the only current Hornet who played for the team when it was based in New Orleans. Oklahoma City has served as the Hornets' temporary home since Katrina.
West calls New Orleans a "special place" where the need to reach out to those less fortunate has never been greater.
"As a black American, and seeing the conditions of other black Americans in New Orleans, especially those who were affected by Katrina, I feel I have a responsibility to help," West says.
Last March, West and his teammates donated food and clothing to children in St. Bernard Parish. He also visited shelters and FEMA trailer parks where he signed autographs, posed for pictures and spent time with Katrina evacuees. West says he especially relishes the interaction with young fans.
"There's always a chance to touch kids," West says. "You never know what shaking hands or saying a couple of words of encouragement can do to change or help."
In anticipation of their full-scale return to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season, the Hornets held a portion of training camp in the Crescent City this fall. West says it provided a chance to get reacquainted with a city that was his home for two years. He's looking forward to being back in New Orleans, where his work on his game and in his community will continue.
"We're in a fortunate situation," West says of NBA players. "You shouldn't have to be begged or seduced into helping people." -- Norris
Mimi Rice, 34 Publicist, Emeril's Homebase
If you're wondering just how much of an impact the popularity and celebrity of chef Emeril Lagasse can have on efforts to rebuild New Orleans, keep this number in mind: $2.5 million.
That's how much the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which supports children's causes, raised in one night last month with the Carnivale du Vin fundraiser. While Lagasse might be the public face of such high-profile fundraisers, Mimi Rice is the person who organizes and orchestrates events for the Emeril empire.
"[Lagasse] has a national audience through his appearances on Good Morning America and the Food Network," Rice says. "In the past year since Katrina, we've really tried to gear that programming toward helping with the image of New Orleans, showcasing local restaurants and cuisine and discussing the best things about New Orleans."
A resident of Lakeview before Katrina, Rice lost all her possessions in the flood. The storm forced Rice, a native of Ocean Springs, Miss., and graduate from Loyola University, to work for months out of the Food Network offices in New York City, where she had lived for five years after college and had worked as a publicist for former CNN fashion analyst Elsa Klensch. Yet, she says her job -- which includes publicity for Lagasse and the company's nine restaurants across the country, its line of cookware, cookbooks and food products -- hasn't slowed down at all over the past year. On top of those duties, Rice also has worked tirelessly in her volunteer role with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau Public Relations Hospitality Coalition.
"We're working to spread the positive news coming out of the city," Rice says of the coalition, which consists of 25 local public relations professionals and has created a national advertising campaign that features local figures such as Lagasse. "We're working to let people across the country know that we need their support, that we want them to come enjoy New Orleans again. We feel we've really made a difference." -- Etheridge
Aaron Wolfson, 35
Peter Menge, 35
Co-founders, Savvy Gourmet
Party hosts know the gravitational pull of one particular room in the house: yes, everyone seems to end up in the kitchen. After Hurricane Katrina, the kitchen at Savvy Gourmet turned out to have the same kind of draw, thanks to the Uptown culinary center's rapidly evolving variety of programs and services.
The business has its roots in cooking classes that New Orleans native Aaron Wolfson held in his home beginning in 2001. He teamed up with Peter Menge, a former schoolmate, and they soon brought the classes into restaurant kitchens. This led to a far more ambitious plan to build a stand-alone destination combining cooking classes, a kitchen wares store and a catering operation. They had opened in a freshly renovated space on Magazine Street just a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina.
With their facility intact but their community shattered, Menge and Wolfson reopened Savvy Gourmet in the weeks after the storm as a place for people to gather and reconnect over food and drink. They branded these casual get-togethers "repatriation parties," and they signaled the start of a stream of new entrepreneurial and community-minded ideas from Savvy Gourmet.
"We realized the plan we'd been building for several years wasn't going to work right away in post-Katrina New Orleans, and the only way we'd survive was to throw ourselves into it and worry about the money later," says Wolfson, who also is a practicing psychologist. "Once we saw the extent of devastation, not just physically but emotionally in the community, we knew we had to just open our doors for people."
Responding to the scarcity of reopened restaurants and groceries, Savvy Gourmet temporarily shelved its cooking classes and began serving lunch and stocking produce and seafood from local purveyors.
"We just decided to open the kitchen as a restaurant," Menge says. "The next day, we had 33 people for lunch, then 40-something the day after that and then over 50 the following day."
They started inviting chefs whose restaurants were forced to close for guest stints in their own kitchen. One of them, Corbin Evans of Lulu's in the Garden, ended up being Savvy's full-time chef as a result. While the grocery sideline was discontinued as more stores opened, the dine-in and take-out restaurant is now a permanent part of Savvy Gourmet, serving lunch and Sunday brunch, even as more of the business' original concept has been introduced.
Cooking classes resumed in November 2005, again often with guest chefs invited to instruct. Savvy recently added a wine program, with classes and a retail wine section joining the kitchen wares shop. The latest project, called Savvy Kitchens, has Wolfson and Menge paired with Ed Novak of Artifice Studio, who designed the cabinetry in the store's high-profile kitchen.
"After the 20th time someone asked us, 'who did your kitchen?' we decided to go into kitchen design," says Wolfson.
Over the summer, around the time of their first anniversary, the Savvy crew launched a raft of culinary programs for children, including after-school enrichment programs and hands-on birthday parties.
Savvy also has hosted many fundraisers for local culinary icons who were devastated by the flood, including Creole soul food legend Leah Chase and the 101-year-old Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream. The company also has been an ardent supporter of the New Orleans Restaurant Renewal Fund, which raises money to help local restaurants reopen. Menge and Wolfson are helping plan a major fundraiser for the cause in the early spring with hospitality groups in New York. -- McNulty
Cat Malovic, 28
Ariya Martin, 31
Joanna Rosenthal, 26
The New Orleans Kid Camera Project
The New Orleans Kid Camera Project is about exposure -- in more ways than one. The grassroots program starts by putting cameras in the hands of local children to help tell the story of New Orleans neighborhoods post-Katrina through the eyes of its youngest citizens. At the same time, it introduces the children to a world of new possibilities. Its goal is to empower children through art and to help them find their voices through photography, writing and other creative outlets.
"Taking pictures of what they see and talking about them is a natural way for these children to express themselves. We just give them the tools to do it," says Joanna Rosenthal, who founded the project with Cat Malovic.
Rosenthal, a native of St. Louis, Mo., and Malovic, of Charlestown, S.C., both came to New Orleans to earn master's degrees in social work from Tulane University. After the storm, their fieldwork took them into the Ninth Ward to work with a local family.
"Schools were still closed and we noticed the four kids had nothing to do, so we started giving them disposable cameras," says Malovic.
The two developed the film for the children and started meeting with them on a regular basis to talk about their photos and what the images meant to them. They kept this up as an informal project until they met Ariya Martin, a photographer from Rochester, N.Y., who was in town as a volunteer gutting houses. On the eve of Martin's return back home, she learned of the budding camera project and decided to get involved. She held a fundraiser in New York and returned with better cameras and darkroom equipment. Martin has since made New Orleans her home and works as a photography professor at the University of New Orleans.
Along with fellow volunteers Eric Carr, Tara Malik and Ibby Caputo, they incorporated the Kid Camera Project, expanding the program and developing the Web site www.kidcameraproject.org to share the children's work with the world. Children's photos from the project have appeared at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and the Green Project as well as in gallery shows in other cities. The Kid Camera Project's Web site soon will feature short film clips made by the children and recordings of the children talking about their work and experiences.
From its origins with four children from one family, the project now works with young people in neighborhoods around the city and in St. Bernard Parish. During weekly meetings, the Kid Camera Project assembles groups of children and gives them a chance not only to show their work but also to share stories and impressions of their changing world. Along the way, they are helping cultivate creative perspectives and emotional coping skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.
"The children are also learning computer skills, working with photo programs, Web page design and all-around computer literacy," says Martin. "They're seeing how art and photography can be a career path. They're discovering new opportunities they never knew existed,"
Indeed, the writing work one of the children has done for the Kid Camera Project helped identify her as a student who could thrive at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts NOCCA. With the help of the project leaders, she was accepted and began 10th grade there this year. Other children involved with the project have received scholarships to attend summer art camp at the Contemporary Arts Center. The group now is at work on a possible traveling show of the Kid Camera Project for next summer. -- McNulty
Markeith Tero, 28 Big Chief, Trouble Nation Mardi Gras Indians
The joy and pride embodied in the distinctly New Orleans traditions of social aid and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians may seem to bubble up from the streets, but those groups' longevity always depends on one generation passing them on to the next. In the wake of Katrina, the responsibility to keep these fires burning is especially serious business to Big Chief Markeith Tero.
The New Orleans native is a founder of the Trouble Nation Mardi Gras Indians and member of the Distinguished Gentlemen Social Aid and Pleasure Club. His own introduction to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition came at age 11, and he learned to sew Indian beadwork at the side of the late, legendry Indian leader Allison "Tootie" Montana. He has performed far and wide, from France and Malaysia to Jazz Fest and local conventions, but it is his involvement with the younger generation that makes him a leader in his hometown.
"I'm just trying to give other people encouragement and make sure the kids know about all this, that they don't take it for granted and let it fade," says Tero.
Before the storm, he organized a youth version of a social aid and pleasure club at his old elementary school, with a civic mission to reduce litter and promote cleanliness on campus. Along the way, the students learned the spirited dances and traditions of the New Orleans clubs through weekly lessons led by Tero. They later performed at the school and community events.
When members of the Indian community need help, they know Tero will be eager to lend a hand. His performances at benefit events and on recordings have helped raise money for sick or injured compatriots and for the Indian organizations themselves. He is a member of the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, and in 2002 received the Indians' prestigious Crystal Feather award. -- McNulty
Eboni Price, 32 Physician, Associate Program Director for Residency Training, Tulane Medical School
Dr. Eboni Price works on the front lines of what she describes as a "paradigm shift" in how health care is being delivered in New Orleans. Immediately following Katrina, Price, associate program director for residency training at Tulane Medical School, needed to find places for her residents to train because the traditional teaching hospitals in New Orleans, Charity and the V.A., were closed.
Price, who was born in Charity Hospital, saw the challenge as an opportunity to apply what she had learned studying and working in other health-care systems around the country.
"In coming back here, I'd always had the vision of trying to restructure -- at least the outpatient side of it -- to mimic what I'd seen in other cities that I thought was beneficial," Price says.
For Price, who graduated from John Hopkins University with a medical degree as well a master's degree in public health, that meant instead of having large hospitals like Charity as the main point of primary health care, care should be decentralized into many smaller community-based health centers. The Tulane Community Health Clinic located in Covenant House had just been established to treat first responders, and Price realized the center would be an asset to the population returning to Covenant's Treme/French Quarter neighborhood as well as a place for her residents. Problem solved.
Her first day at the center in mid-September 2005 was a lonely one. Rampart Street was deserted and she found only two medical personnel from New York inside the clinic. Patients, mostly police officers, slowly trickled into the building. Business has picked up considerably since then, and the staff -- made up of Tulane internists, nurses and residents -- have provided free medical services to more than 10,000 people within the community. Price still works and teaches residents at the clinic. She believes that as physician and public-health advocate, there's no place like home.
"Where else can you be where you can take something and sculpt it into a system that's a better way for delivering primary care?" she says. -- Winkler-Schmit
Ryan Finn, 28 Owner, Ryan Finn Ocean Sailing
Ryan Finn's sailboat is named Myrna Minkoff after a character from the modern New Orleans classic novel A Confederacy Of Dunces, and the boat's hull number is 504, a nod to the local telephone area code. But in two upcoming long-distance, single-handed sailboat races, Finn will be representing the New Orleans area in a much more meaningful way as he dedicates his races to raising awareness of the plight of Louisiana's eroding coastal wetlands.
"I would like to use my campaign as an educational platform because that's how I see it being most useful," says Finn. "On the water, I am one man overcoming great obstacles and challenges Mother Nature presents. Off the water, I am one of many people doing the same thing."
The New Orleans native grew up sailing, but it was his experience with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at age 20 that led him to the demanding specialty of single-handed long-distance sailing. While undergoing treatment, he compulsively followed the progress of a solo sailboat race around the world called the Around Alone.
"It was the complete opposite of my cancer treatment and following it got me through," Finn says. "I thought, 'When I'm finished with this cancer b.s., I'm going to do that.'"
In 2004, he raised money for Louisiana's Leukemia and Lymphoma Society during a single-handed race he completed from San Francisco to Hawaii. Now his sights are set on the Bermuda 1-2, a race between Newport, R.I., and Bermuda that begins in July, and the Mini Transat in 2009 -- a single-handed race from France to Brazil on 21-foot sailboats. He will be training on Lake Pontchartrain, and his team of supporters is working to secure a title sponsor. Updates are available at www.ryanfinnoceanracing.com. -- McNulty
LaToya Cantrell, 34 President, Broadmoor Improvement Association and Manager, Greater New Orleans Education Foundation
In the search for silver linings from Hurricane Katrina, one commonly voiced hope was that crime and exploitation would magically disappear from the New Orleans social landscape as the city rebuilt. Meanwhile, LaToya Cantrell was preparing for a more realistic outcome.
"The social ills that plagued our city before the storm, you still have to deal with them now -- the criminals, the drug dealers, the slum landlords," says Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA).
That's why amid the destruction the storm and flood brought to her Broadmoor neighborhood, Cantrell also sees the chance for real and lasting change.
"The biggest opportunity is the people," she says. "We never had the mass of the people behind us like we do now that the storm has galvanized us. When the people are united and working toward common goals, you can really get things done."
Cantrell moved to New Orleans from Los Angeles in 1990 to attend Xavier University. She stayed after graduation and in 2000 she and her husband bought their first home on Louisiana Avenue Parkway in Broadmoor.
She became president of the BIA in 2005. The association itself dates back to the 1930s but was formally incorporated in the 1970s when its members sued a realty company for racially divisive "block-busting" market manipulation. Since the storm, the organization has played a pivotal role in planning the neighborhood's comeback. Cantrell convened its first post-disaster general meeting in January and has been working on the neighborhood's top three priorities: housing, education and the resurrection of its library.
Cantrell also is manager of the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation, which acts as a fiscal agent for public schools and helps connect them to private sector resources. -- McNulty
Deuce McAllister, 27 Running Back, New Orleans Saints
Dogged determination and ferocious focus have propelled Deuce McAllister into the pantheon of Saints greats. But his humility, generosity and altruistic spirit have made him a giant to scores of young people in the Gulf South for reasons that have nothing to do with football.
"It's just me being me," says McAllister, now in his sixth NFL season. "You don't do it for the fame, you don't do it for the cameras or anything. You do it because you're trying to help. You do it because that kid could have been you when you were growing up. You want to show them that there's somebody who cares for them and you just want to give them an opportunity."
Created in 2002, the Deuce McAllister Catch 22 Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged youth in New Orleans and his home state of Mississippi.
During the school year, the foundation sponsors outings for students to museums, sporting events and other destinations. Catch 22 treats more than a hundred students to an annual $100 holiday shopping trip. And at Thanksgiving, the foundation teams up with grocery stores to provide meals to needy families. McAllister also works with the volunteer mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The Saints all-time leading rusher says he owes much of his success to the kindness and compassion of others. It's that appreciation that inspires his work in the community.
"There were so many people who looked out for me," McAllister says. "My dad was on the road being a truck driver. My mom worked two jobs, so I had coaches and teachers and cousins who looked out for me. Whether it was bringing me home or whether it was staying after school with me. I had so many people who helped me along the way, so I just wanted to try to pass it on as much as possible." -- Norris
Jeffrey Goldring, 39 Vice Chairman, Republic Beverage Co. and Philanthropist
When Jeffrey Goldring was a young boy, his grandfather sat him down and instilled in him a few words to live by. "He said, 'We have a very prosperous business and we take dollars out of the community, and we need to give back to the community,'" Goldring recalls.
Goldring, vice chairman of the Republic Beverage Company and a fourth generation member of his family to be part of the beverage business, never forgot his grandfather's lesson, or how his parents were always involved in one charity after another.
Philanthropy for the Goldrings is a family value. For years, Goldring has served on various charity boards including the Goldring Family Foundation board, which typically funds education organizations. In past years, the foundation didn't normally grant monies to public schools, focusing instead on higher education institutions. Since Katrina and with the emergence of charter schools, however, Goldring and his fellow board members have been exploring ways "to make a difference in the way the schools are going to be set up in the future."
Goldring doesn't limit his activities to just formal education. Perhaps his greatest passion lies in the city's music and culture, and he brings his skills as a businessman and philanthropist to numerous musical organizations. He sits on the board of the Tipitina's Foundation and is an advisor to Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.
After meeting Mayfield and Ron Markham, the orchestra's founders, Goldring was overwhelmed by the duo's dedication to preserving jazz music and eventually creating a jazz institute in the city that he immediately made a significant donation to their group.
"I believe what makes up New Orleans is the culture, and that culture is the music and the people," Goldring says. "That's what this community is made up of, and that's why people come to New Orleans, to be a part of that."
That's the kind of talk and action that would make a grandfather proud. -- Winkler-Schmit
Leigh Collins, 39 Counselor, Metairie Park Country Day School, and Yoga Instructor and Owner, Artopia House Yoga Studio
If you happen to see children dashing into the Confetti Kids playground in Algiers Point to do yoga poses in the sunshine, there's a good chance yoga instructor and school counselor Leigh Collins is nearby.
Collins, head of counseling at Metairie Park Country Day School, opened the Artopia House Yoga Studio in her Algiers neighborhood last year. For her, yoga and counseling often go hand in hand. Yoga can be an effective tool for self-healing and wellness, she says. Collins sometimes also uses yoga techniques to enhance her therapy work, especially with children.
"Traditional talk therapy or psychoactive medication can be extremely effective for reducing stress in adults, but kids often don't have the language to express difficult emotions," she says. "Helping kids realize that they can use their minds to exercise some control over their bodies teaches them that they can use their minds to control their emotions as well."
Artopia House was scheduled to open the same weekend Katrina struck; the disaster only pushed its debut back by a few weeks. In October, Collins began offering free yoga classes from the studio.
"Lots of people showed up who were having trouble sleeping at night; it was a crazy time after all," she says.
The business opened in November 2005 and offers an array of styles and class levels, including children's classes.
Collins is co-author of the book When a Parent Is Seriously Ill, based on her experiences counseling children.
"We got funding to do just a brochure, but the more we talked with kids, the more we learned and it kept growing." Book proceeds benefit Jewish Family Services. -- McNulty
Jeffrey Thomas, 35 Attorney and Consultant
Like countless others, Jeffrey Thomas did whatever he could to help others in the first weeks following Katrina.
Evacuated to Baton Rouge, he volunteered with the Louisiana Forest Service to set up relief shelters and distribute food and water. He also helped to facilitate the rescue of 83 cats in Lakeview. As the recovery process shifted from personal to political, Thomas' areas of expertise came together to create his role in the rebuilding effort.
"Right now, we're dealing with environmental issues, legal issues and governmental reform issues," says Thomas, who moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law School eight years ago after working as a biology teacher and consultant in Washington, D.C. "Those are all things I've worked at at various levels in my professional career. It's my opportunity to help out."
Thomas served on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission's Urban Planning Committee and authored a report critical of the environmental sampling the government conducted in flooded communities. His role gave him insight into the gap between the planning process and the allocation of federal recovery dollars. Realizing the dire need for the cash-strapped city to maximize federal relief monies, Thomas authored a 30-page document examining the legal aspects of disaster-relief money. The report has gained traction with officials from the mayor's office, City Council and neighborhood groups.
He's not all work and no play, however. His hobby of landscape photography earned him a spot in the Katrina Exposed exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and he enjoys singing Frank Sinatra covers at French Quarter bars. A member of the law firm Simon, Peragine, Smith and Redfearn, Thomas is committed to rebuilding. "The planning process is now wrapping up and it's time to implement those ideas, so the city is at a critical juncture right now," Thomas says. "Where we go from here, I'm not sure, but I plan to stay involved." -- Etheridge
Lindsay Hannah, 30
Heather Knight, 28
Co-founders, Chaux Vive
Unless you happen to be visiting relatives buried there, a trip to the cemetery generally doesn't top the must-do list for tourists in most cities. New Orleans, of course, is an exception, and the complexes of above-ground tombs here are a distinctive cultural attraction. Visitors to New Orleans' most historic cemeteries are seeing an increasing number of tombs that have been restored in a historically authentic manner, thanks to Chaux Vive, the architectural conservation and preservation firm founded by Lindsay Hannah, Heather Knight and another partner.
Chaux Vive means "quick lime" in French and is a reference to its founders' dedication to using traditional methods and materials, such as lime washes.
"We want them to look as they did originally but also have that patina of age, and we do that by using original materials," says Hannah.
She first came to New Orleans in 2001 with a team of students in the University of Pennsylvania's historic preservation program working to restore St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 through the Save America's Treasure Project. She was so enchanted with the city and its architecture that after earning her master's degree in historic preservation, she made New Orleans her home.
That 2001 visit was also when she met Knight, who was raised in New Orleans and has a master's degree in preservation studies from Tulane University School of Architecture. Knight has worked with local artisans such as master plasterer Earl Barthe to record their traditional methods and stories.
In 2002, they formed Chaux Vive. Their work in the cemeteries, though performed for private clients, helps preserve a public asset for the city. Chaux Vive also takes on restoration projects of historic homes and other buildings. The company recently restored plaster walls in the Mary Plantation house, an 18th century home in Braithwaite that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They also conduct education and outreach programs, making presentations for historic trusts and schools.
"Our approach is hands on and academic as well," says Knight. "Most historians are locked in archives, but we get to apply the history we know and help save these historic sites. We get to prolong the history through its physical structures."
Since Hurricane Katrina, Knight and Hannah have been hard at work assessing damage and making repairs to historic sites in the area. They conducted assessments of a number of historic cemeteries and submitted them to the nonprofit organization Save Our Cemeteries, surveyed hurricane impact on historic districts and properties in New Orleans and repaired damaged tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. In addition, they consulted on hurricane-damaged historic buildings on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, including Beauvoir in Biloxi and the De La Pointe-Krebs House (a.k.a. the Old Spanish Fort) in Pascagoula. -- McNulty
Jim Fitzmorris, 37 Playwright and Professor, Tulane University Theater Department
Playwright Jim Fitzmorris didn't lose a house to the hurricane, but his loss was certainly personal and irreplaceable. Katrina washed away his favorite setting: Lakeview.
Following the storm, Fitzmorris hadn't seen his mother for a month and a half when he met up with her in Louisville for a cousin's wedding. He confided in her.
"Mom, all my plays are gone," Fitzmorris told her. "When I said that, I didn't mean the text -- I have those on my computer -- but that whole world I was writing about."
Fitzmorris has long mined his stored memories of a life lived in Lakeview. He grew up there among an extended Irish-American family of cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Many consider place to be an essential part of any writer's life, and Fitzmorris, who teaches in Tulane's theater department, has paid tribute to his New Orleans neighborhood.
His play, The Visitation, is set in the mid-1950s to early '60s and, as Fitzmorris says, "without ever really saying the word 'Lakeview,'" concerns the beginnings of his New Orleans community. In the introduction, he refers to it as "the silent heart of the city."
Fitzmorris' plays are realistic, and the award-winning With Malice For All, also set in Lakeview, portrays the dark underbelly of New Orleans' politics.
Even with the destruction of his childhood home, Fitzmorris doesn't feel he's lost his New Orleans muse. His most recent effort, The Last Madam, a stage adaptation of Christine Wiltz's nonfiction book about famed New Orleans bordello entrepreneur Norma Wallace, enjoyed an extended run at Southern Rep. While many of his fellow playwrights were busy writing hurricane plays, Fitzmorris decided to take some time away from the destruction and will debut his Christmas yarn Yuletide this December.
Don't think for a moment, however, that Fitzmorris has suddenly mellowed. He can't; there's too much new material. "Thank God Ray (Nagin) went a little crazy," Fitzmorris says. "If all that good government nonsense had continued, I'd have had nothing to write about." -- Winkler-Schmit
Zachary Manuel, 17 Student and Documentary Filmmaker
When high school student Zachary Manuel was told to make a documentary for class, he chose a subject that was close at hand but seemed little understood -- the influx of Latino people to the New Orleans area in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Most coverage of the subject seemed to be less than positive, he says, and accounts of immigrant workers being exploited motivated him to document their story.
"If New Orleans is supposed to be such a melting pot for all these different cultures, it shouldn't be a big deal for new people to come here," says Manuel, a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
The result has gotten him far more than a completed school assignment. Called Exodus, the film is a record of some of the challenges Latinos in the area have faced since the storm and their contributions to the recovery effort. A 7-minute preliminary version of the film was selected as a finalist for the Louisiana Shorts Film Festival in October. Manuel plans to submit the complete version, which is about 25 minutes long, to film festivals out of state.
The teenager landed his first job a few years ago at an ad agency working with his father, jazz vocalist Phillip Manuel. By age 15, the younger Manuel moved from doing basic office work to storyboarding television commercials for the firm. Later, he got a shot directing his own public service announcement emphasizing the importance of strong families. Manuel also was assistant director for a music video shot in New Orleans that recently was entered in a contest organized by the band Pearl Jam.
Over the summer, he attended a Media Arts Program at the University of California in Los Angeles. After finishing high school next year, Manuel hopes to attend college in southern California and continue his work in film and video. -- McNulty
Matt McBride, 31 Engineer and Watchdog
Low-lying New Orleans neighborhoods face high stakes when it comes to drainage, but these days they also have a uniquely qualified advocate working on their behalf. Matt McBride, a mechanical engineer whose Broadmoor house was flooded following Hurricane Katrina, has emerged as a watchdog over the work the Army Corps of Engineers has undertaken since the storm.
"The Corps promised to fix the New Orleans drainage system with money appropriated in December. Their deadline was June and the work is still not done," he says. "I am here to push them to do that work."
Equipped with a technical education and professional experience at engineering firms, he sifts through Corps documents and tries to pressure the Corps to do a better job. He uses a Web blog, emails, and news releases to local and national media to spread the word.
"My role is to keep the public informed of the stuff the Corps hasn't or won't," McBride says. "We need to get it out there that the recovery (of drainage projects) is not finished."
For instance, together with his Broadmoor neighbor Joe Thompson, he launched a campaign demanding that pumping station roofs damaged in the hurricanes be repaired -- work that had gone unfinished and threatened further damage to the equipment inside.
"I feel like the right guy in the right place at the right time to do this," says McBride. "I'm an outsider (from the Corps) with a fire under my ass and just enough knowledge to make me dangerous." He recently filed lawsuits to obtain Corps documents regarding flood-gate operation plans for the next storm.
"That's important information to have in areas where people are rebuilding," he says. -- McNulty
Nathalie Gomes, 35 Dancer and Dance Educator
For Nathalie Gomes, dance is much more than just moving to music.
"Dance is an art form, a way of expressing yourself," says Gomes, a native of a small town outside of Lyon, France. "You forget about everything else when you dance, and it's also a great way to relieve stress."
Having lived in New York City for 11 years, Gomes experienced firsthand this positive attribute of dance in the aftermath of 9/11. In post-K New Orleans, Gomes sees the same release through her adult dance classes. "People just come and let go, leaving their worries behind them." she says.
While Gomes says her focus of late is on her role as a dance instructor, her own career is quite distinguished. She moved to New York in 1994 and became an understudy of famed dancer Frankie Manning, who, now in his early 90s and still vivacious, is living proof of the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of dance. The Lindy Hop, a swing style that began in the 1920s and moved to big band music, is Gomes' specialty. She's credited with adding her own athleticism and modern influences to create a signature choreography that helped her earn the title of World Swing Dance Champion from 2002 to 2004.
She leads dance classes in Jefferson Parish schools, holds adult classes at Tulane University and is organizing the Crescent City Lindy Celebration Dec. 1-3, which is expected to attract swing enthusiasts from all over the country.
Gomes has a master's degree in international relations, and lived in New Orleans in 1993 while she completed a summer internship at the local French-American Chamber of Commerce. She moved back in March 2005 and says she has found a place where she feels at home. "I love all the culture and architecture," she says, "but there's just so much live music -- so much to dance to." -- Etheridge
Christopher McCrory, 35 Development Director, Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency
Hurricane Katrina put a lot on hold in the New Orleans region, but the need for organ transplants wasn't one of them. Time is critical for patients waiting for organs or scheduled for transplants, so the people behind the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) wasted none of it.
"Our focus the whole time was making sure no one died on our watch," says Christopher McCrory, development director for LOPA. "Within 36 hours of the storm, we were in Lafayette and back in operation."
LOPA's mission is to educate the medical community and general public about organ- and tissue-donation issues, to work with families through the donation process, to recover the donations and match them with those in need. While LOPA is based in Metairie, the organization operates regional offices and has representatives across the state.
Raised in Gentilly, McCrory earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Kentucky but returned home in 2003 to work for LOPA. Since then, the agency has been one of the top performing organizations of its type in the country, with 33 percent of Louisiana's population registered as donors. In the time McCrory has been in charge of development, the number of registered donors has increased by 34 percent.
"The key is our tremendous staff of community-outreach people," says McCrory. "They're out there pounding the pavement every day and having the one-on-one interactions we need to get our message to people."
McCrory says the agency focuses its discussions on the gifts of life and healing inherent with organ donation.
"We're an agency of second chances, and (organ donation) gives people the chance to leave a legacy," he says. -- McNulty
Kathryn Destreza, 36 Director of Humane Law Enforcement, Louisiana SPCA
Kathryn Destreza was told from the beginning there was only so much time. As director of humane law enforcement for the Louisiana SPCA, she was leading a team of hundreds of volunteers and staff members throughout New Orleans on the largest animal rescue effort in the country's history after Katrina. Veteran rescuers kept reminding Destreza that at some point the rescue mission would become one of recovery.
"They told us after two to three weeks, the animals would start dying of hunger and dehydration," she says. "It never really happened. We did find some dead animals, yes, but most of the animals were so resilient. Through October we were still rescuing animals."
Destreza, who has been with the local SPCA for 14 years, arrived in Houston with her agency's sheltered animals on the day the storm hit. When she and her staff found out the levees broke later that day, they immediately drove back to New Orleans and opened a temporary shelter. They started rescuing animals on Tuesday evening.
Destreza doesn't blame people for leaving pets behind, because nobody expected the levees to break. Soon after arriving back in the city, she began receiving thousands of calls from distraught pet owners asking for their animals to be rescued. Destreza sent her staff out to specific house addresses, but after a while she realized that most owners wouldn't be able to reach her. Knowing there were thousands of animals in need, she divided the city into sections and sent teams -- often with rescue teams searching for human victims -- door to door looking for stranded pets. By mid-October, Destreza's team had saved more than 8,500 animals.
Destreza knows personally what it's like to be separated from furry-legged companions. Her cat and two dogs were sent elsewhere until she could find a new apartment. "It was rough," she says. "But at least I knew they were safe." -- Winkler-Schmit
Marshall Love, 34 Owner, Loveswimming
When Marshall Love entered the Master of Business Administration program at Tulane University, he thought he was growing up and moving away from his first love: swimming. He was a competitive swimmer and swimming teacher during his undergraduate years at Texas A&M University and felt that swimming was something he would do to get through college, but that afterwards it was time to get serious. During an entrepreneurial course taught by John Elstrott, founder of Celestial Seasonings Tea, Love changed his mind.
"He helped me understand that people do great things with skills that aren't always valued in the world the way they could be," Love says.
From Elstrott's course, Love developed a business plan, and on Valentine's Day 2002, Loveswimming was born. Love and his business partner, Kaye Doirin, rented a 900-square-foot office space on Magazine Street, put a small vinyl pool inside and soon were teaching swimming to more than 100 kids per week.
What separates Loveswimming from an average class at the YMCA is warm saltwater; because kids don't weigh enough to retain heat, the water is kept at a constant 90 degrees. If kids are warm, they're more receptive to learning, Love says. By using a chlorine generator, which produces chlorine naturally without having to add chemical tablets, their pool has none of the noxious fumes associated with indoor pools. Plus, Love and Doirin maintain a low 3-to-1 student-teacher ratio.
It didn't take long for Loveswimming to expand beyond its original location to a warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street, where each week kids as young as 6 months and adults as old as 85 learn to swim. Loveswimming also has expanded outside New Orleans, opening a location in Lafayette. -- Winkler-Schmit
Burke McFerrin, 31 Children's Program Administrator, Jefferson Parish Library System
There are a lot of children -- and parents -- in the area who must be grateful Burke McFerrin likes New Orleans cooking. She is the children's program administrator for Jefferson Parish Library System (JPLS), and just two days before Hurricane Katrina struck she had received a job offer in her home state of Alabama. On Wednesday, Aug. 31, with the agony of the New Orleans area at its most acute, McFerrin turned down the offer.
"I just couldn't leave," she says. "They really don't have anything to eat there" in Alabama.
Of course, her real motivation to stay was to help reopen the JPLS after the storm. With her own Lakeview condo uninhabitable, McFerrin couch-surfed and lived on a sailboat for six months while she worked to make the library system's facilities available to the public again.
The first libraries reopened Oct. 3, 2005, and immediately began issuing "Katrina cards" to allow people outside Jefferson Parish to access the libraries' services. In the recovery period, the libraries have provided far more than reading materials, including computer access for residents, distribution points for aid applications and meeting areas. For children, the libraries have provided some much-needed stability and a learning environment, plus programs by storytellers and performers. In addition, libraries that needed significant rebuilding after the storm are being redesigned with more resources for children, such as reading and storytelling rooms, craft rooms and more computers.
For her work before and after the storm, McFerrin was named JPLS employee of the year for 2005. Parish President Aaron Broussard named her government employee of the year across Jefferson Parish for that same year. -- McNulty
Niki Arena, 34 Software Designer
Anyone who filed an insurance claim because of Katrina knows how long it can take. Months can go by without having a claims adjustor assigned to your case, and after that, the adjustor has to write up the claim and send it in. Anything that could shave some time off of this interminable process would be nothing short of a miracle.
Meet miracle-worker Niki Arena.
The software designer from Gretna has developed ClickClaims, a web-based system that can handle thousands of insurance claims from start to finish. In the past, when a catastrophe struck, major insurance carriers would travel to the disaster site and set up an insurance claims center. Insurance representatives would hire independent adjusting firms to manage and handle the thousands of loss notices from an insurance company's customers. These adjusting firms would then hire hundreds, sometimes thousands, of independent adjustors to process individual claims. Everything was done on paper.
Arena's system, which is the flagship product of E-Claim.com, makes life much easier on the independent adjusting firms by establishing a virtual catastrophe center on the Web. The insurance company can send loss claims directly to the site, independent adjustors' information is stored there, and adjustors are contacted by an automatic call center. Best of all, the call center immediately starts contacting customers to initiate the claims process.
Arena knows firsthand how much of an improvement ClickClaims is.
"When my home was damaged by Katrina it took four months for (my) insurance company to contact me," Arena says. "If their adjusting firm had used my system, I would have been contacted within a day."
Adjusting firms that did use Arena's system were able to get insurance settlement checks to relieved (instead of angry) customers much faster. The timesavings garnered ClickClaims an E-Fusion Award at a recent insurance technology conference. -- Winkler-Schmit
Andrea McNeil, 29 Political Events Coordinator and Founder, A.M. Marketing Inc.
The past year has been an extraordinary time for local politics, with a delayed and highly contentious mayoral campaign, a congressional election and voters facing landmark constitutional amendments concerning tax assessors and levee administration. Yet these were the waters into which Andrea McNeil took her first plunge into New Orleans politics, working on campaigns for mayoral contenders Ron Forman and Mitch Landrieu, Arnie Fielkow's City Council bid and Karen Carter's run for Congress.
A native of Chicago, McNeil moved from Jacksonville, Fla., to New Orleans in 2004, after a business trip convinced her to make the Crescent City her home. Here she founded A.M. Marketing Inc. to help provide college graduates with opportunities to build professional experience right out of school.
After Hurricane Katrina, however, McNeil decided to dedicate herself to civic involvement, becoming a certified elections commissioner and encouraging others to get involved.
"I feel the rebuilding takes each one of us, and my role and responsibility is to help get people motivated to participate in the democratic process," McNeil says.
She is heavily involved in Young Leadership Council (YLC), a professional volunteer organization. She helped plan the group's largest annual fundraiser, the Role Model Awards Gala, and has gathered volunteers to help other nonprofits in the area. McNeil put her marketing skills and experience to work for YLC's membership committee and recently was selected for the council's Leadership Development Series. In October, she was named YLC vice president of development for 2007. McNeil also works with the local United Way through its "loaned executive" program to help raise money for health and human services nonprofits. -- McNulty
Becky Zaheri, 39 Founder, Katrina Krewe
When Becky Zaheri first returned to New Orleans, the city where she was born and raised, she surveyed the wreckage, then looked toward the future, both the city's and her family's.
"When I saw that mountain of trash on West End (Boulevard), I was appalled," she says. "I was checking out other cities to live, even going so far as to research houses and schools. Every trip I took back (during her evacuation in Baton Rouge), I realized that it was not getting better, that it was going to take everybody's effort to help out. I thought, 'If I'm going to move my family back here, I have to do something to make it better for them.'"
The first step Zaheri took was to email her sentiments on the considerable trash problem the city faced to everyone in her address book. The response was amazing, Zaheri says. The result? Katrina Krewe, an all-volunteer debris/trash cleanup operation that to date has mustered roughly 10,000 volunteers from all over the world who have cleaned up an estimated 250,000 tons of debris.
Zaheri -- also a member of the Women of the Storm group, which has worked to bring members of Congress to the Gulf Coast to view hurricane damage -- now has shifted the focus of the Katrina Krewe to "Kids Against Trash," a program to teach children in area schools about the problems of litter and, hopefully, pave the way for a cleaner New Orleans in the future.
"The littering problem here is something we've always struggled with," says Zaheri, who recognizes that litter still pops up in areas the Katrina Krewe has cleaned up. "But we have the chance now for change. It's not a change that's going to happen overnight, but we need to be patient and diligent to make it better." -- Etheridge
Adam Norris is a sports anchor at WGNO-TV, ABC26 in New Orleans.