Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Louisianans Have Long Memories

Sunday, October 04, 2015

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            Louisianans have long memories.
            Last week the Share Our Strength board met in New Orleans and participated in two days of site visits with other partners and supporters.
Ten years ago, within days of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, philanthropists and civic leaders poured into the region with promises of help. We traveled there as well. We committed that while we could not be the largest donor, we would stay the longest and be there until the recovery was complete. It wasn’t “on strategy” for us to do so, but an event as enormous as Katrina didn’t fit anybody’s strategy. My take-away from last week’s visit, beyond the always incredible food and hospitality, is about how small acts, outside of the spotlight and with no motivation beyond trying to help, despite long odds, can have memorable long-term consequences.
            93 year old Leah Chase remembered how Ashley Graham of our staff helped her re-open her famous restaurant after Katrina. 
 
          The Volunteers of America remembered the Share Our Grants that enabled them to create a social enterprise to make and distribute school meals.
 
          Dickie Brennan of the legendary Brennan restaurant family remembered how we helped fisheries and restaurants get back on their feet.
 
          The principal of the William Fisher charter school remembers how Rhonda Jackson of our team got them the grants they needed to implement breakfast in the classroom.
Share Our Strength’s past and future come together in New Orleans. It’s a place where we transitioned from grant maker to a focused No Kid Hungry strategy to increase participation in school breakfast and summer meals. Much more remains to be done. When I asked the vice-principal of one school what other issues impacted the kids readiness to learn, he told us that 48 of the 611 students are homeless, that the fathers of two students has been murdered in just the last three weeks, and so “the kids bring lots of issues from home into the classroom with them.”
For me, the biggest take-away of all is that we need to have a long memory too. The seeds we planted a decade ago continue to bear fruit in communities across the region, as Rhonda Jackson and our team continue to re-plant and re-invest. We especially need a long memory when it comes to taking risks, not letting strategy ever stand in the way of doing what is right, and sometimes being willing to start down a road even if you can’t see all the way to the end of it.