BY: John Driscoll
DATE: Monday, December 19th, 2005

Community Living Campbellford/Brighton is appealing to community living organizations across Ontario to help the most vulnerable people in New Orleans directly affected by Hurricane Katrina.

When Katrina struck New Orleans in August, it left many people with intellectual disabilities with lives turned upside down, without housing and with their entire support network washed away in the floodwaters.

Chris Grayson, executive director of Community Living Campbellford/Brighton, had met Raymond Jetson, deputy secretary of health and hospitals for Louisiana, at a conference two years ago.

“I noticed when Katrina hit, the media was not showcasing anyone with a disability and I called Raymond Jetson to ask if there was anything we could do to help,” Chris explains.

Chris says he was told in a conference call with Jetson and Julia Kenny, executive director of The Arc of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, that money was the most pressing need. The Arc is the organization that provides services to people with intellectual disabilities.

“You have to understand that 80 per cent of New Orleans was under water,” said Julia Kenny in a telephone interview with Community Living Leaders. “We are trying to continue to support people but it is very difficult,” she said.

Raising funds now to meet the needs of people with intellectual disabilities is critical, according to Julia. While some costs are covered, people need money for clothing, temporary housing, setting up new households, and medicine.”

“People were evacuated and had to leave clothing and such items as motorized wheelchairs behind,” she said “Some people evacuated became so disoriented they didn’t know who they were and their records were destroyed in the flood.”

Julia has provided stories of three of those affected including Willie who has an intellectual disability and cerebral palsy. At the age of 10, Willie was sent to an institution and later lived in three group homes in three cities.

He has realized several of his dreams, has owned his own home for 12 years, has worked at a downtown New Orleans hotel for 15 year, is an active member of the Louisiana Disability Council and a regional representative for People First Louisiana.

He plans to move back home when he can, clean up and repair his house, and begin replacing all he has worked for over the years but he needs financial support.

“There are so many stories,” Julia says. “People who have never interacted with the service system now need services as they try to put their lives back together again. Right now we can’t deliver.”

Willie’s story and two others are featured on Community Living Campbellford/ Brighton’s web site

“We’ve set up the Hurricane Katrina Relief Project to raise money to help these people to get their lives back on track,” Chris explains. All the money donated will go directly to the Arc of Louisiana to assist people with intellectual disabilities.

The campaign thus far has raised more than $3,700 dollars and Chris is hoping to raise “anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.” He is putting out the challenge to other community living organizations to join the project. “It can be anything from passing the hat around at the office to organizing fundraising events.”

Community Living Wallaceburg responded quickly with a $1,000 donation and Community Living Ontario staff and board have also taken up the challenge.

“We had a staff meeting and everyone was enthusiastic about supporting this,” says Rozalyn Werner-Arce, manager of marketing and public relations. The staff held a Texas Auction with people bringing in personal items and some making personal donations. “We’ve raised about $650, are organizing a pizza day for January to raise funds and we’re inviting our neighbours in this office building to participate.”

Community Living Ontario has agreed to match funds raised by staff and board members.

Donations can be made at any Royal Bank branch to the Katrina Relief Fund at Royal Bank in Campbellford, ON. To donate by cheque, please make the cheque payable to Community Living Campbellford/Brighton, writing Katrina Relief Fund in the memo portion of the cheque and sending it to Community Living Campbellford/Brighton, 99 Centre Street, PO Box 414, Campbellford, ON K0L 1L0.