Eleven years ago this month, Liz and I first volunteered in St. Bernard Parish - just outside of New Orleans - it was six months after Katrina and we planned on helping for two weeks. We got to know people who reminded us of our family, except instead of living in homes they were living in garages, gutted (sometimes ungutted but moldy) homes, or were cramped in FEMA trailers. We did not know it then, but this is when we were first introduced to the concept of “breaking point.”
After two weeks, we could not just go home, and tell our new friends: “Good Luck”! We decided to stay for two more weeks and find - and then financially support - the rebuilding efforts. When we talked to “disaster people” however, we heard the same refrain: they had been using the same model of disaster recovery for 30 years, and building houses was Phase 3. Of course, this was not palatable to us.
We moved on June 1st and soon started St. Bernard Project. We were a lawyer and a teacher from Washington, DC who knew nothing of construction, let alone disaster recovery policy, or the disaster recovery “industry”, but it was clear to us from the beginning that the “traditional” disaster recovery model was highly inefficient and allowed far too many survivors to stare into the abyss of uncertainty about when or if they would be able to move home.
Over the years the organization progressed significantly, thanks to the incredible work of volunteers, AmeriCorps members, and corporate partners and we expanded to other disaster-impacted communities across the country. Our goal was to prevent the suffering that we saw in New Orleans. Along the way we learned valuable lessons about the resilience of survivors, the disaster recovery process and people’s capacity to fix and solve problems.
With your help, SBP has rebuilt more than 1,200 homes across seven states, utilizing the skills, drive and commitment of 180,000 volunteers and more than 700 AmeriCorps members.
In May 2016, we announced our official rebrand to SBP - an affirmation of our growth nationally while retaining memory of our history and founding in St. Bernard Parish. In essence, every recovery that we have worked on since 2006 has stood on the shoulders of the recovery that preceded it. Lessons learned in New Orleans can and should be applied to New York, and those learned in New York can and should be applied in South Carolina and Baton Rouge.
With our rebrand came an updated mission: to shrink time between disaster and recovery. This expanded mission is driven by the fact that while our actions for years were anchored in rebuilding work, our Board helped us uncover that what SBP really did was fortify people against their breaking point. If this is really the “why” for SBP’s existence, we could not stop at rebuilding which, while crucially important and something that will always be at the center of our practice, is reactive. Today we launch our new website (sbpusa.org), but last August we officially launched our five interventions which we believe will shrink the time between disaster and recovery in America.
In a world in which disasters are occurring more frequently, inflicting more damage and happening in places with no prior history of disaster, efficient, predictable recoveries are more important than ever - for the wellbeing of those impacted as well as their communities at large. For our part, SBP is deploying our best practices, lessons learned and experience via five “interventions” in order to achieve our mission through a holistic approach:
- Rebuild homes quickly after disasters by mobilizing private sector innovations and assigning a single point of contact to make the home rebuilding process faster and more predictable.
- Share SBP’s operational innovations with other rebuilding organizations to expand and catalyze efficient, predictable recovery on a national scale.
- Prepare home and business owners prior to and following disaster with specific steps to mitigate risks, improve resilience and speed recovery.
- Advise policy makers immediately after a disaster so they can deploy federal dollars sooner, and in a way that empowers an efficient recovery.
- Advocate for the reform of policies that relate to disaster recovery in the U.S. to improve the predictability and speed of recovery.
As a long-time supporter of SBP, you likely first came to know “St. Bernard Project”, a New Orleans organization that rebuilds homes after disaster. Moving forward, and with the help of this website, I hope you’ll think of us as, “SBP” - a national disaster preparedness and recovery organization that works not just to rebuild, but to share, prepare, advise and advocate, to ensure that no American citizen is forced past their breaking point after disaster.
I hope you’ll take some time to explore our new site and learn more about SBP’s vision and work. In the coming months we will add more features including video and we will consistently post blog content to keep you informed about SBP’s impact.
To the volunteers, AmeriCorps members and supporters past and present - thank you! Know that your commitment has meant the world to the families for whom we have rebuilt and that, moving forward, we will drive to make fewer and fewer families need that rebuilding support. To those who value community, family, and service to your fellow citizen, we cannot wait to work with you to accomplish our mission. We’re thrilled to have your support.
Zack & Liz