Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amanda - Three Years after the Storm

Amanda lives in New Orleans East, a neighborhood that was completely flooded after the hurricane. Her family was one of the first on her street to come back and rebuild. Now, about half the houses are still empty and in various states of construction or disrepair. The neighborhood is still eerily quiet, but Amanda is cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Three Years after the Storm: Erica

In August 2008, a few weeks before Gustav, we filmed updates with several of the kids from "Katrina's Children". Here's Erica, three years after the storm:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Leander's New Hope

Today we learned that Leander, one of the children from our film, has been accepted into the Boys Hope program! This is such a fabulous opportunity for Leander and when you know his story you will understand just how remarkable it is.

Leander was introduced to us by Wendy, a friend of Laura's, who happened to live in the same neighborhood as Leander, although he was living in abject poverty and Wendy was living in very comfortable surroundings. This is fairly typical in New Orleans with people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds living side by side. It is also something that greatly appeals to me as it can and often does help each of us understand the customs and lifestyles of others.

Leander also had figured out at the ripe old age of 7 that he could
get the needs not met at home through the more affluent neighbors who
fed him, cleaned his clothes, bought him new clothes, let him use the
computer as well as who served as surrogate parents, something he is
to this day desperate for. Hampton Friedman was at the top of the list
of the surrogate parents and it was Hampton and his wife who Leander
evacuated with during Hurricane Katrina.

As Hampton tells it Leander showed up on his doorstep early on the morning before the storm and asked to come along. Leander explained that he had a new puppy and did not want to go to the Superdome where pets were not allowed. Hampton agreed to take him as long as his Mom signed off on that and she did. He stayed with the Friedman's for three months where they enrolled him in a private school in Baton Rouge and where he excelled.

He eventually located his family and went to be with his Mother, Father and sister in Ft. Worth, where, unlike New Orleans, the neighborhoods are not mixed socio-economically. Their living conditions were horrific. Leander's Mother was very ill, and not expected to survive much longer. His Father was also ill, both having long been involved in the world of drugs. His sister, now 12, has had just as hard a life.

But in two weeks Leander will walk into the best home he could ever have asked for, surrounded by peers who are equally intelligent, creative and from similar difficult backgrounds. He will be mentored by outstanding and loving men and women and he will have opportunities beyond his wildest dreams.

Boys Hope will provide top notch education for him through college and
will help him meet his full potential by providing a value centered,
family like home and exciting opportunities, allowing him to become
the wonderful man we all know he will be.

Babs Johnson

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


While there is so much to complain about in our sluggish recovery
there are people and programs that offer glimmers of hope. Marie Lamb
and the Contemporary Arts Center's annual Summer Arts Camp are at the top of that list for me.

Marie has been the Education Director at the Contemporary Arts Center
for the past 8 years and even before Katrina did more community
outreach for our under resourced children (and on a shoestring budget)
than any other organization of it's type. And her amazingly creative
summer camps are such big draws that they are always sell outs months

Marie, a ceramicist, and her husband Michael, a furniture designer,
had just put the roof on their dream house a block off the beach in
Pass Christian, Mississippi when the storm hit, taking everything they
had spent the last several years to build. All that remained was the
slab where the house had stood. On top of that, because they had not
yet moved in, there was no home owners insurance. So everything they
had was gone, including Marie's job while the CAC felt its way back
from the disaster. Despite the enormous hardship Marie and her family
endured I have never heard her complain once; a sign of the character
that makes her so unique.

Her period away from the CAC was luckily short lived and she is back
at the CAC making her magic all during the year. The highlight for me
is the summer camp which is a 4 week program for children ages 6-16
involving theatre, cooking, dance, visual arts and music. Each year
has a theme and this year's is "The Art of Invention". Week one will
be "Wheel", followed by "Flight", "Locomotion" and finally
"Experiment". Another plus for the camp is the fact that forty percent
of the children attending are on scholarship thanks to the generous
funding of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and there is a healthy
diversity among the 120 children attending each week.

Every Friday there are performances, artwork hung on the walls and food made and served by the children. Anyone interested is welcome and one year there was even a visit from Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, his sister U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and U.S. Senator Barack Obama! Watch the clip on YouTube of the event that Laura and Guido filmed.

If you are in the area and want to see a program that works for
children of all races and socio-economic levels stop by the CAC at
1:00p.m. the next four Fridays and I guarantee that you'll be

Lastly, as a sign of our recovery Marie and Michael have rebuilt their
home; a perfect blend of crafmanship, spirit and creativity. It is a
testiment to hard work, perserverence and the love and support of

Babs Johnson

Monday, July 7, 2008

Blogging From An Altered Universe

To live in New Orleans as a child has always posed problems for many
of our less resourced children but never has it become more difficult
than living here Post Katrina. Many children remain displaced from
their homes, either still living in trailers 3 years later or with
relatives as their families await Road Home money.

Everyday, Katrina still colors our lives in small and big ways. For example, New Orleans was the only city of all affected to turn ball fields and playgrounds into group trailer sites. Even though the trailers have all been gone for 6-8 months, it has taken the pressure of our City Council to demand that the City Administration and FEMA refurbish the 15 sites before yet another summer passes with no place for children to do the job of children- play.

The one positive outgrowth of the nation's largest man-made disaster
is the attention to correcting our long failing public school system.
Parents have banded together to form Charter schools, the state has
taken over many that are now called Recovery District Schools and a
few still remain under the control of the New Orleans School Board.
There is hope for better educated children which will lead to higher
paying jobs and greater financial success for them instead of the
grinding poverty so many have experienced for generations.

We believe that Katrina's Children highlights the amazing raw talent
of our children and would like it to inspire people to continue to
help in our long recovery, making children's issues one of the top
priorities. Hopefully, our film will make people never forget how our
city fell to its knees through levee failures and sluggish
governmental responses from the Federal on down to local levels and
how much our children and families suffered but also how through sheer
willpower and self determination our families are helping our city to
once again stand tall and proud.

Babs Johnson