10 Years Later VISIONS is Still Working with Hurricane Katrina Communities 

August 29, 2015 marks the 10th Anniversary of Katrina, the devastating hurricane that forever changed the Gulf Coast of the U.S. resulting in flooding that took many lives and left thousands without homes. Celebrities immediately took the helm of the cause, and service organizations rushed in to help. And like any community that’s confronted with the aftershock of a natural disaster, eventually these organizations moved on the next cause, and the Gulf Coast communities were left to their own devices.

Ten years and many global natural disasters later, there’s still much work to be done, and VISIONS is one of the few remaining service organizations that still returns year after year.

When people recall Katrina, they tend to think about the extensive damage that occurred in the tourist hub of New Orleans, Louisiana. But communities along the coast of Mississippi and Alabama were also deeply affected.

“We are still working with the smaller communities along the Coast that are often forgotten or overlooked,” says Megan Prettyman, VISIONS Mississippi Program Director. “In these small towns, community members are passionate about advocating for themselves, but they also readily accept the help that we offer each year.”

VISIONS, which has been organizing community service summer programs since 1989, has been working with the coastal Mississippi communities of Gulfport, Moss Point, and Turkey Creek since the summer of 2006. Each summer, VISIONS sends teens and program leaders from around the world to live and work among community members who were deeply affected by Katrina. The service work that the teen volunteers perform is in equal measure to the cultural immersion and lessons in social justice from the likes of Rose Johnson, a fearless local social justice advocate whose ancestors are among Turkey Creek’s first residents.

The church that the VISIONS groups call home for the summer in Moss Point was revamped to better accommodate volunteers post Katrina. It has been home to roughly 6,000 volunteers ever since, and it’s where the VISIONS groups are based as they work with the small communities of Gulfport, Moss Point and Turkey Creek.

“The community partners we’ve been working with Turkey Creek and Gulfport are so lively and dedicated,” says Katherine Dayton, Executive Director of VISIONS. “We are one of the few volunteer groups still returning, and they welcome us warmly, inviting us to community barbecues and events, and regaling us with local lore and Cajun traditions.”

Turkey Creek is a coastal community rooted in African-American history. Settled in 1866 by recently emancipated slaves, the area was once a vibrant, self-sufficient neighborhood with farms, homesteads and the first African-American school in the region. Its location on the “other side of the swamp” kept it insulated until recently, with developers trying to stake claim and residents trying to preserve this culturally and ecologically important area.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Turkey Creek was still the site of numerous historic homes and minority-run businesses, and residents had been working hard to obtain historic preservation status and build more affordable housing. Now, the community is fighting to survive. Since 2006, and initially in response to Katrina, VISIONS teens have accomplished impressive service in Mississippi: environmental walkways, a 50’ footbridge, and a green-certified outdoor classroom where Robert Kennedy Jr. named one of our partners as the nation’s new Waterkeeper. The teen volunteers have also planted trees, developed a community garden, and repaired homes through partnerships with the Audubon Society and a local land trust.

“Through the service work, these teen volunteers get a greater feeling for the whole community,” says Prettyman. These community members  really welcome us with open arms and appreciate knowing that 10 years after the storm, they haven’t been forgotten.”

VISIONS in The New York Times