Special Needs Attorneys Volunteer in New Orleans for a Day

Editor's note:The Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP), the professional organization of attorneys that provides this consumer Web site, held its 2nd Annual Meeting in New Orleans March 28th and 29th. Thanks to the efforts of two of ASNP's New Orleans member attorneys, Steven Bain and Sheila Moragas, prior to the start of the meeting attendees had a unique opportunity to do volunteer work with Families Helping Families, a local group that helps special needs children get the assistance they need. Following is a report on that effort by attorney Harold E. Gerry, Jr., of the law firm of Vincent J. Russo & Associates in Westbury, N.Y. (Photos by Jacqueline Dias.)

I was looking forward to ASNP's 2nd Annual Meeting ever since I saw the first announcement for it. Not only was my wife, Arlene, able to join me, but we also managed to take a couple of extra days off from work to enjoy the city of New Orleans.

We had both been to New Orleans previously, but all the visits had been before Katrina. We wanted to see the city again. We had heard it was making a comeback -- a slow comeback, but a comeback nonetheless. We knew that many conventions, sporting events and exhibitions had been held there in the past several years as a way to bring money back into the community, and we were excited to see the city "back to normal." But we also knew that not everything was normal. We had heard that many of the residents did not return and that the rebuilding of the outlying communities was taking a long time.

As we were driven to the volunteer site, we were able to see firsthand how little of the city was actually "back to normal." Only a few blocks out of the French Quarter and downtown area, houses were still boarded up and buildings stood empty. Markings from the searches conducted in the wake of Katrina were still on many of the houses. Some buildings had marks showing the water line. Other houses had obviously been rebuilt, but they were by far the minority. My wife said it best as we drove through: "How can we, the richest country in the world, let this happen?"

What we saw made the opportunity to help fix one house or business that much more rewarding. When we arrived at the site -- the office of Families Helping Families of Southeast Louisiana -- we were greeted by Carol Calix, the organization's Executive Director.

Families Helping Families created after Katrina, assists and empowers families of individuals with disabilities through a coordinated network of resources, services and support. The staff helps individuals and families obtain information, training and education. They can mentor parents and individuals with disabilities on a variety of topics, since most of the staff is either an individual with special needs or the parent of one.

About 25 of us spent the day landscaping, painting and repairing the Families Helping Families office. We removed overgrown vegetation, caulked leaking windows, added needed window shades, sealed an exposed wooden entrance ramp and beautified the office's exterior with a fresh coat of paint. What we accomplished allowed the staff to continue their important work without spending valuable resources on building maintenance. It also gave all of us -- the Academy members and family and friends who participated -- the satisfaction of having helped bring this wonderful city a step closer to being "back to normal."

To visit the Families Helping Families Web site, click here. Article Last Modified: 04/21/2008