The Partner with a Katrina Family Network

A Grassroots Effort to Join Families and Share Resources

The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

The People's Institute co-founder, antiracist organizer Jim Dunn, used to say that grassroots organizers rely on networks because a net that works can sometimes be the only thing that makes a difference. Hurricane Katrina has shown us that we are more interdependent than we may have thought. The Partner with a Katrina Family Network is an effort to strengthen ties between families directly impacted by the hurricane and those indirectly impacted, in order to build human networks, share resources, and facilitate a healthy, just interdependence of communities across the country.

What Does it Mean to be a Partner with a Family Surviving Katrina?

  • You are willing to commit to a period of partnership with your partner family, during which you stay in regular contact, and work together with them to assess needs and provide solutions;
  • You are willing to connect with your family, friends, neighbors, and/or co¬≠workers in order to build support for your partner family;
  • You are willing to give financial and other kinds of support;
  • You are willing to follow the lead of your partner family, in the spirit of self-determination, self-sufficiency, and interdependency.

What Does it Mean to be a Family Surviving Katrina in Partnership with a Family Wanting to give Support?

  • You are willing to be in communication with the family that wants to redistribute its resources;
  • You are willing to be forthcoming with your needs, with no shame or greed;
  • You are willing to direct this partnership in the way that works for your family, addressing difficulties should they arise, and helping your partner family be as useful as they can;
  • You are willing to receive the support provided and use it to assist you to become interdependent and self-sufficient.

How to Become a Partner to a Katrina Family: 8 Steps

  • Build Your Partnership Team. This may consist of your family, your extended family, a group of friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. The members of your team agree to work together to offer assistance to the Katrina family. Commit to a period of partnership. We recommend six months to a year.
  • Identify a Liaison. Choose one person who will be the prime liaison with the displaced family, the partner team, and the Network organizers.
  • Become Partners with a Katrina Family. Contact the Network in order to be matched with a Katrina family. In some cases it will be possible to identify a family in your region~ in others you will be networked with someone in a different part of the country.
  • Family Contact and Needs Assessment. Upon receiving your family name, contact the family immediately. Remember that they have been displaced since the end of August/early September, and are anxious to get settled as quickly as possible. Find a time when they can tell you at length about their situation. Do the needs assessment together. Remember to tell them a little bit about your family and the other members of your team, and the amount of time you have committed to staying in contact and assisting with their resettlement.

Here is a general guide to the kinds of information that will be useful.

  • Family. Who is in their family? Get names, ages, health statuses, etc. Some may be very close to extended kin, who mayor may not be with them. Find out who is in their circle of concern. Who else do they know in their area?
  • Shelter. How settled are they? Are they in need of immediate relocation? What are their options so far?
  • Employment. Are they looking for work? What kind? Do they need job contacts, clothing, equipment, supplies, or materials?
  • Auto. Do they have a car? Need a car?
  • Furniture. Are they in need of furniture? Do they have transportation to pick up furniture? What about other household items: linens, kitchen appliances, cookware, etc. Make a priority list.
  • Clothing. Do they need more clothing? Sizes, styles, colors? Take climate into account. What are they willing to take donated, and what do they want to buy new?
  • School. Are the children already registered for school? How is it going? Do they need school supplies?
  • Children's Items. Children's toys, books, games.
  • Health. Do they have any pressing health concerns? Health Insurance? Access to prescription, doctors, medication?
  • Paperwork. Do they need help with paperwork CFEMA forms, insurance forms, health insurance forms, change of address, etc.). Any legal needs?
  • ¬†Contact. Phone? Email access? When and how can they contact you?
  • Partner Brainstorm. Call your team together quickly after your initial call. Share the needs assessment, and be as creative as possible.

Ways to Help

  • Financial Contributions. How much money can you give up front? Do you want to make a bi-weekly pledge? Some partner teams may decide to make sacrifices during the period of partnership and save that money for the family (e.g. fewer meals out a month, carpooling, etc).
  • Gift Certificates. Gift cards to Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sears, etc. can be invaluable, are easy to provide long distance, and allow families to make their own purchasing choices. Ask about other stores in their area that they would like to buy from. If you know other people who want to provide support without going through an organization, buying gift cards for your partner family can be an easy way of participating.
  • Local Contacts. If you live in the same area as your Katrina family, you may choose to meet with them in person. Being close by means you can collect items listed above and drop them off. You can give people a tour of the area, brainstorm job contacts, provide help getting a car, etc.
  • Local Contacts From Afar. If you are partnering with a family that is not in your region, we bet it will take far fewer than six degrees of separation to find connections between your partner team and someone in your Katrina family partner's region. Does anyone on your team know anyone who knows anyone in that area? Can you invite them to be a local liaison? Having a local contact can be useful for job connections, furniture or moving assistance, visits, help getting to know the area, etc.
  • Advocacy. Many businesses - cell phone companies, utility companies, airlines, Amtrak, etc - are providing assistance to evacuees by waiving late fees, freezing loan payments, changing flights without change fees, etc. Sometimes these allowances are not granted, but must be requested (you have to ask to know!). This can be time consuming, stressful, and require comfort speaking with authorities. You can offer to make these calls on behalf of your partner family.
  • Material and Emotional Support. While the most pressing needs at the outset are material, such as shelter, security, food, income, etc., there will be other kinds of needs, and other ways you can support your partner family. Some might be as simple as calling often and regularly (reliably) just to check in, listen, and let them know that they are not forgotten. You may also help them to network with other communities and/or support services, etc.
  • Regularity and Consistency. Establish some structure to support you, and to help maintain consistency. Examples might include deciding how often (at a minimum) you'll be in touch with the family; identifying times in the day when it's easier for you to work on related tasks; coming up with ways that your whole family can be involved together; deciding how you will stay connected as a team and work together.
  • Get out of the Box. Be creative about ways to support your partner family, and also yourself during this relationship. Share your process and the stories you are hearing from the family with people in your community. Contact your local newspaper. Write a letter to community groups in the area in which your family partner has relocated.
  • Stay in Touch with the Partner Network. The Partner with a Katrina Family Network can be an important source of support for partnering families during this time. We'd like to hear how it's going~ problem solve with you if there are difficulties, and document the fruits and difficulties of strengthening our network in this way.

Principles of Partnering for Families with Resources:
Reminders, Reflections, Guidelines

  • Forging New Kinds of Relationships. Becoming a partner to a family undergoing tremendous upheaval is likely a new experience. Your Katrina family partner is undoubtedly experiencing some form of post-traumatic stress, and cycling through many emotional states all the time: grief~ anger~ confusion~ overwhelm, hopelessness, exhaustion, etc. As you build your relationship with them, you too will likely experience a range of emotions. The more awareness you bring to these states, the less derailing they will be. In addition to the difference in your current circumstances and emotional trajectories, there may be other kinds of cultural differences that emerge along the way, which may not even be recognizable to you or the family you are partnering with.
  • Self-Determination. One of the primary objectives of this relationship is for both partners to nurture se1f~determination for the family surviving Katrina. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to start with it. While the relocating family is undergoing a crisis, they are still to be the leaders of this partnership process.
  • Commitments. As a partnering team you don't have to do more than you commit, but we ask that you keep the commitments you do make. Pay attention to what you offer, and do not promise casually.
  • Active Listening. While team partners may be moved to offer a lot of advice to their partner families, the much more useful contribution, in most cases, is active listening. Recently dislocated families may need to think out loud, vent, express a range of emotions, worry, troubleshoot, weigh options, etc. Many of the people closest to them are going through the same dislocation and are not available. Active listening means not offering solutions, not trying to change their mood, not leading the conversation. It's ok not to know what to say. When in doubt, you don't have to say anything at all. The most important thing is perseverance and staying in relationship.
  • Mutuality and Strengthening Human Networks. The partnership relationship feeds all its members. It is also a paradox. On one hand it is not directly for and about the partners with resources. Being able to provide real service to other human beings means being self-reflective and accountable about the psychological motives that may arise in the course of this kind of relationship, such as heroism or valor. On the other hand, the relationship does offer something to each member of the partnership. The partners with resources may not be able to put into words at the beginning what exactly they are getting in return, but as the relationship develops, this will become more clear. Remaining unconscious of the mutuality of the relationship leads to feelings of superiority, condescension, judgmentalness, etc. In a paraphrase of an Aboriginal saying, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

The Partner with a Katrina Family Network: Mission Statement and Contact Information

The Partner with a Katrina Family Network is a process established by organizers and friends of The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, some of whom have themselves been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Network seeks to join families and resources in order to strengthen antiracist human networks, nurture self-determination, rebuild community, and insure the equitable distribution of resources.

Coordinators of this network volunteer their time and there is no overhead. For information about partnering, either as a person or family dislocated by Katrina or a person, family, or cluster interested in assisting, please contact us:

  • Kimberley Richards, Ph.D., Farrell, PA / New Orleans, LA.
  • Rachel Luft, Ph.D., New Orleans/ Bozeman, Montana. [rachel [dot] luft [at] sbcgloba1 [dot] net~ 504.250.3237] Note: This is a New Orleans phone number and you may get a busy signal or "all circuits are down" recording. If you keep trying in quick succession you should get through within ten seconds.
  • Pat Callair, LCSW. Greensboro, North Carolina. [LBCallair7 [at] ao1 [dot] com; 919.260.0955]
  • Bonnie Cushing, LCSW. Montclair, New Jersey. [bonniecushing [at] ao1 [dot] com; 973.746.1640 or 973.746.0806]

About The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

The People's Institute was founded in 1980 by long-time community organizers Ron Chisom of New Orleans and Jim Dunn of Yellow Springs, Ohio. It has been based for most of its history in the city of New Orleans until its displacement by Hurricane Katrina. The People's Institute was created to develop more analytical, culturally-rooted, and effective community organizers. Over the past twenty-five years The People's Institute Undoing Racism TM/ Community Organizing process has impacted the lives of nearly 100,000 people both nationally and internationally. Through this process, it has built a national collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers who do their work with an understanding of history, culture, and the impact of racism on communities.