On the Road in New Orleans, Louisiana
By: Victoria Harp
New Orleans is my favorite foodie haven. Surely I would be able to incorporate crawfish étouffée and beignets into work meetings, right? We arrived in New Orleans late in the afternoon on January 2, 2013. The streets were filled with football fans en route to the stadium for the Sugar Bowl. The program leaders for evacuteer.org asked to meet with our team the night of our arrival. They selected a quiet restaurant frequented mostly by locals who know where to get a good meal. In my foodie opinion, we were already off to a great start. Crawfish étouffée was checked off my list and after quickly getting acquainted; we started in on the purpose of our visit: to learn absolutely everything we could about evacuteer.org and the EvacuSpots project from as many people as possible in 36 hours.
Evacuteer.org program leaders, Robert Fogarty and David Morris, are both young professionals with other full-time jobs. The two split co-director duties for evacuteer.org. Fogarty is the decidedly creative visionary while Morris is the pragmatic and operational one. They make a great team as Morris interprets Fogarty’s ideas and turns them into action. These are highly passionate, innovative community leaders. The time and effort they invest into evacauteer.org is to be commended, and it is not rewarded with a paycheck of any kind. Their time and devotion is completely in-kind, which led me to ask: why do you do it?
Both are quick to recount the experiences they have had with natural disasters, specifically hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Gustav (2008). Their experiences, combined with a shared love for the community of New Orleans, is a motivator that is easy for them to pinpoint. After spending a few days with them and the people that partner with, volunteer for, and support evacuteer.org, I think there is a little more to it.
New Orleans, Louisiana (Left) Evacuteer.org Program Contacts and the CDC site visit team pose beside a current Evacuation pick-up point in New Orleans (L. to R.) Courtni Blackstone, Robert Fogarty, & David Morris of evacuteer.org; Victoria Harp, Cori Wigington, & Robyn Sobelson of CDC. (Right) Artist Douglas Kornfeld with fabricated EvacuSpot.
These guys are natural born leaders. You know how some people say that true leadership cannot be taught? While neither said they went to school to learn about leadership, their natural ability to lead may be how Fogarty and Morris are able to run a nonprofit and run it well. Perhaps this natural ability, in addition to the genuine love of their community and personal experience with natural disaster, is the additional fuel needed to do this work totally pro-bono?
Evacuteer.org has an executive leadership committee full of young professionals with diverse backgrounds. This committee functions as a workforce, with approximately 25-30 members taking on the workload that a staff would assume. When asked about their motivation to stay involved, members describe their shared love of the community and experience with natural disaster but when pressed for more, they start singing the praises of their leaders: Robert Fogarty and David Morris.
Sofia Curdumi, a member of the Executive Leadership Committee, states that "they make it a joy to come to meetings and provide an opportunity to branch out to other passionate, like-minded professionals thus creating a collective knowledge of the city and a ripple effect of getting people involved in volunteering. It is a really great group of people."
The groups’ latest project was no small feat. Not only do they maintain a volunteer workforce for the city with evacuteer.org, but they have also accomplished a multi-pronged project to reinforce community readiness with public art, the EvacuSpots. EvacuSpots are being fabricated and will be installed in the summer of 2013 (see photo). Read more about the EvacuSpots in the CDC blog post and the NY Times article.
Being on the road in New Orleans was a whirlwind of new faces and interesting findings. A few hours before our plane was set to leave and our meetings were wrapping up, my colleagues gamely agreed to make a mad dash with me to Café Du Monde and scarf down some beignets and chicory coffee.
Ah yes, New Orleans… another “On the Road” success!
Victoria Harp has been supporting the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Learning Office as a Contractor for Lockheed Martin since 2009. She has been a Project Coordinator for the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness Initiative and is currently supporting the Learning Office working with the CDC Foundation and FEMA for the Whole Community Program.