I am a first-year student at UB's School of Social Work and am wondering how I can help people displaced by the hurricane disaster—people who will be affected for years to come. Perhaps after graduation, I can go down there to assist. I wish I could go now, but I have just begun classes. When I do get my MSW from UB, I want to immediately put it into practice—that would be a great way to help.
On September 11, 2005, a reading of my play— Bystander 9/11, which is a docu-drama on the September 11th attacks—was performed at Tufts University in Medford, MA, with all proceeds going toward Katrina relief.
My wife and I were in New Orleans to move our daughter into the dorms at Tulane University (she returned in mid-January ). We ended up stuck in our hotel for five days and were evacuated by bus to Baton Rouge. While we are safe, the experience was a life-changing one. After we finally returned home to New York, we decided to do something to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast region. Along with a few friends, we organized a cruise around Manhattan on a yacht in mid-October. We secured the yacht at a deeply discounted price and were able to get a noted DJ company to donate its services. We then advertised the cruise to every person we knew, might have known or ever knew—and by word of mouth our project grew exponentially. We ended up having more than 100 people on the boat; raised more than $22,000 before expenses; and expect to contribute more than $15,000 to Habitat for Humanity's Gulf Relief Fund. The experience reminded me of how people can take action to affect things in their small sphere of influence. This is a feeling I don't think I've had since I was in college.
I took everything I could find and packed it in my car and headed to Biloxi, or any points in between. I didn't have to go very far, as evidence of destruction [from hurricane Katrina, but exacerbated by Rita] began just across the bridge (over Mobile Bay in Alabama). I never made it to Biloxi, because clothes and water were needed by so many en route. Since returning to Daphne, I have been making sure the 18-wheelers are full and “sneaking” into the worst areas to help those who have yet to be reached by the government. As I write this, I don't even have a bank account left, but we're pushing people every day to give more than the old can of tuna in the cupboard. I gave my last dollar to a crying man at a gas station who had lost everything and couldn't even call his parents to inform them of the deaths of family members.
I wanted to drop everything and go help—in person. My schedule does not permit this, however, and I have no training [in this area]. But my heart wanted to do something. Yes, we gave donations. We have to believe that Red Cross and Salvation Army folks know what they're doing and will reach out in compassion and caring for all those affected.
Like most people, I had already donated to Katrina relief, more than I can afford. Each year, I donate a percentage of my salary to many charities in this country and internationally. Often, I have to tighten my belt to help others who are in need. On occasion, my own family also needs funds. Last week, I sent a check to an organization in India that provides a free, quality lunch for about 2.5 million poor elementary school children each year. All my life, I have tried to care more about others than myself.
*Responses to a question posed “In My Opinion,” a feature of the monthly electronic newsletter @UB. To subscribe, go to the UB Links menu at www.alumni.buffalo.edu.