Youth Work in Hurricanes

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The Impact: Buildings lost, staff and kids scattered

The executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project was trying to hold her agency together from a Holiday Inn in Houston, where she was staying with her dog after Hurricane Katrina sent her packing from New Orleans. Melissa Sawyer wanted to pay her employees, but they were scattered across several states, the agency’s bank was shut down by the storm, she couldn’t find all of her board members, she wasn’t sure she could use grant money for the payroll when no one was working, and she had no paychecks anyway.

“There’s nothing in the policies and procedures to deal with a situation like this,” Sawyer said. “I’m just making this up as I go along.”

Things looked more upbeat in Omaha, Neb., where the staff and youth from several New Orleans-area Girls and Boys Town facilities arrived on two huge buses to find hundreds of cheering kids and youth workers. The evacuees got clean beds and classrooms, and recreated their programs on the national campus.

Those are among the tales from Katrina that show how her impact on youth agencies depended on the same factors that determined her impact on people: geography, luck and resources.

Youth-serving agencies largely heeded government warnings to evacuate as the storm approached. But the demolition of buildings and scattering of youth, staff and volunteers across the South left many of those agencies stripped of anything resembling a youth program.

Now those agencies face unprecedented challenges for the year ahead and beyond. Many will be permanently changed; some probably won’t survive.

Then it seemed about to get worse, as many of the same agencies evacuated in late September when Hurricane Rita headed for Texas.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America reported on its website that Katrina “has had a devastating impact” on its agencies.
“The agency is underwater, and I am currently trying to reach my staff,” Dolores Medina-Whitfield, CEO of the BBBSA Southeast Louisiana office in New Orleans, wrote to her colleagues. “We are in a very grim situation.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America said 20 of its clubs were damaged, including six clubs destroyed in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., and two destroyed in Mobile, Ala.

For many agencies, the most significant damage might be not to facilities, but to their network of youth workers, volunteers and kids. The BBBSA estimated that more than 3,400 of its Big Brother and Big Sister matches were “directly impacted” by Katrina.
Many public and private child welfare agencies faced a similar nightmare: They were left with responsibility for kids whose whereabouts are unknown and who may never be found.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said late last month that it had received 3,652 reports of children separated from caregivers in the wake of Katrina. The center stressed that some of those children were safely in the hands of other caregivers; 966 of the cases had already been resolved.

Many of those children were in towns that escaped the brunt of the storm and were then flooded by a human surge of evacuees. Youth workers who lived in or fled to those towns spent their days scurrying to track down their staffs and their youths, or to help the thousands of children and families that poured into public buildings and youth agency facilities.
Messages posted on the YWCA’s website reflected the mood:

“Our community is inundated with refugees,” wrote Barbara Brister, CEO of YWCA Alexandria, La. “This is unreal. … Say a prayer for everyone.”

“I am in a state of shock,” wrote Roxann Pedesclaux Johnson, CEO of YWCA Northwest Louisiana, in Shreveport. “The women break down and cry constantly, the men are in shock, and the children play, happy to have new friends. … phones are out, food is coming too slow. … The people in the shelters are getting tired and impatient.”

But there were also messages of hope, as youth workers and agencies pitched in to help the communities and each other.
They’ll need it. The ordeal wasn’t just a matter of getting through a couple of hellish weeks. “This is not just an emergency. The needs of homeless and displaced youth will increase over the next few months,” said Theresa Tod, executive director of the Texas Network of Youth Services.

Ironically, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth had planned to hold its annual conference in New Orleans in late October. The conference has been moved to Kansas City.

Illustrating how long it will be until the area approaches normalcy, Tulane University in New Orleans bowed out of hosting the Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement – which was scheduled for March 2006.

The Response: Youth agencies charge into relief

Before Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the South, the YMCA in Gonzales, La., didn’t host after-school programs. But when a few thousand hurricane evacuees camp outside your door, the next thing you know, you’re running basketball games for the kids every afternoon and movies for the families at night.

And “we’re open 24/7 now, because we have a National Guard unit living in our building,” said Chris Hester, executive director of the YMCA at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Similar scenes played out across the South last month as youth-serving agencies played a central role in the region’s recovery effort, giving countless thousands of children, families and relief workers everything from food, shelter and medical care to social services, emotional support and recreation.

“The youth organizations are stretching their mandates to rise to what needs to be done,” said Carl Triplehorn, an emergency education specialist dispatched to the South by Save the Children to work with schools and youth groups. “This will be a very good thing for youth work, because it is pushing people beyond their limits.”

Just about any youth program that had a recreation center, group home or cabins still standing was drafted into service.
The YMCA of Baton Rouge, La., served as a gathering place for up to 20 groups, including the National Guard, the FBI, sheriffs’ departments and teachers from out of town, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “I just got off the phone with EPA,” Chief Operating Officer Tim Bergstresser said one night. “They’ve got 50 ladies they want to shower.”

At Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana, about 100 mentally and physically disabled adults from a residential home, along with their staff, moved into a camp run by an affiliate of Camp Fire USA. They camp had been closed for the season; now it scurried to house evacuees through October.

The Clyde Austin 4-H Center in Greenville, Tenn., canceled a youth camp and set up cots to take in more than 100 evacuees – and hosted a wedding for two of them, whose New Orleans nuptials were wiped out by Katrina.

Meanwhile, out-of-school-time programs popped up all over the Gulf Coast region, even though in many cases, there wasn’t a school any more. About one-third of the people in shelters soon after the hurricane were children, the director of emergency services for the Central Mississippi Red Cross told ABC News.

“People are living in shelters that are just large gyms filled with masses of people on cots, with no privacy,” said Triplehorn of Save the Children. “There’s no real place for children to play. It’s a very difficult environment for children.”

One woman who has run child development programs for the military set up instant youth programs at shelters in several towns, using donated balls and books – then shut them down as the shelters emptied, moving on to open others elsewhere.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America affiliate in Baton Rouge worked with the local Big Buddy mentoring program to provide academic help and recreation in two schools that were created to handle displaced youth. The BGCA staff members gave the teachers supplies, served as teachers’ aides and taught some lessons using academic enrichment materials from their after-school programs, said Pat VanBerkleo, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Baton Rouge.

When Boy Scout council leaders noticed growing restlessness among kids and their parents at a shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., they opened up their nearby Scout camp and created a regular program of activities like volleyball, canoeing and barbecues.
Youth pitched in to help in what seemed to be record numbers, turning the Katrina relief effort into perhaps the largest civic engagement project in the nation’s history.

Kids in just about every American community drew attention for collecting money, clothes and supplies for hurricane victims. In Charleston, S.C., more than three dozen teen moms at the Florence Crittenton Programs thought up and ran a donation drive, boosted by their own media campaign. The girls loaded a truck with more than 100 care packages, then put together first-aid kits for other girls’ facilities.

Do Something, the New York-based nonprofit that encourages and supports youth activism, launched a drive to get kids around the country to put together backpacks with school supplies, healthy snacks and personal-care items.

Next come more complicated efforts that will extend for months and years ahead. Youth-serving agencies are figuring out how to rebuild not only their own programs, but much of the region as well.

YouthBuild Aims to Rebuild

A program heralded for building homes while rebuilding the lives of youth now has to rebuild itself in much of the Gulf Coast.
“The New Orleans program, for the moment, does not exist,” said YouthBuild USA spokeswoman Anne Leslie.

In the days immediately following hurricane Katrina and ensuing flood, YouthBuild USA, which supports agencies funded under the federal YouthBuild program, scurried to secure funding for the seven sites affected by Katrina. The site in New Orleans, for instance, will have to be completely resurrected, while the Baton Rouge, La., site needs $500,000 to refurbish houses that could shelter evacuees.

In the long term, YouthBuild USA President Dorothy Stoneman sees a larger role for her organization in the rebuilding process. She’s been talking with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Corporation for National and Community Service about funding a larger Katrina-related project. The choices, Leslie said:

• Take 2,500 displaced youth from the affected area and assign them to YouthBuild sites around the country. “We can help them continue their education, get counseling, while also receiving construction training … and then send them back home with skills they could use to help with rebuilding,” Leslie said.

• “Select one community, probably a rural community, since they have largely been ignored down there in the media, and focus on rebuilding that. Send YouthBuild crews to those sites we choose; do something like 1,000 homes in 1,000 days.”

Each plan has its challenges. For the first, said Leslie, finding room and board is the biggest obstacle. The second plan would carry greater risks, with YouthBuild participants being dispatched to a relatively unstable area where disease might be a risk.

CIS Helps Kids Start School

The approximately 1,200 children evacuated to Austin, Texas, and its immediate surroundings because of Katrina put tremendous pressure on the local schools and their services, such as after-school programming. Workers with Communities in Schools (CIS) have been helping to enroll the youths and screen them for special needs, said Vanessa Rhoades, spokeswoman for CIS of Central Texas.

And because CIS was already running programs at five of the seven schools in which evacuee children are enrolling, Rhoades said CIS expects enrollment in those programs to grow.

The local agency, part of a national network of CIS programs that forges partnerships with schools, has also been coordinating donations from nonprofits around the country. One of them is Encompass, a youth development organization in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles, which serves 13- to 19-year-olds. They’ve been collecting donations of supplies from the community and shipping them off. One popular item: clothes, especially large T-shirts.

“Everyone else was raising money to send to the Red Cross – we wanted to do something more youth-specific,” Executive Director Lori Nelson explained in an e-mail.

“They don’t have anything,” Rhoades said of the hurricane evacuees in Texas. “They don’t have paper to take notes.”

Boy Scouts Relieve Boredom

Although Katrina evacuees are grateful to get to shelters that have been set up in towns and cities throughout the South, a problem soon becomes apparent: They have nothing to do. Boy Scout leaders delivering clothes and ice to a shelter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., noticed that the kids and families were growing restless, according to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
So they offered the use of their 500-acre Camp Horne, just a few miles away, the BSA said. It said local churches provide buses and vans to take shelter families to the camp on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. The organization said the activities include volleyball and canoeing. It was unclear how long the camp would continue, as more families moved from the shelter into local apartments and houses.

The Future: Agencies Look to Rebuild

“How do you manage a caseload … that’s absent?”

That question, from Marketa Garner-Gautreau, assistant secretary for Louisiana’s Office of Community Services, hits at one of the central dilemmas facing youth-serving agencies that try to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The storm scattered thousands of youth workers and volunteers, wrecked many of their homes and their agencies’ facilities, and, according to the U.S. Department of Education, destroyed or damaged the homes and schools of 372,000 children.
Those factors have created an unprecedented challenge for both the near and distant future.

“Our first concern has been to get the staffers back on their feet so they can reach out to the community,” said YMCA of the USA spokesman Arnie Collins. “There are staffers down there who lost their homes and have only the clothes that they’re wearing.”

Youth programs around the country have offered to temporarily hire workers displaced by the storm. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America said it will create a repository of nationwide job information for employees whose agencies or homes were wrecked by the storm.

Nevertheless, Gulf Coast youth agencies need much of their staff to come home when they can. If too many people settle elsewhere, those agencies will find themselves competing with other industries – not the least of which will be the schools – for workers.

In an effort to avoid such a manpower crisis, some groups are exploring how to provide temporary housing for displaced staff. Last month the YMCA was considering “providing some sort of housing down there for Y staffers who have lost their homes,”

Collins said. The ideas included trailers, recreational vehicles and houseboats.
Girls and Boys Town (GBT) hoped to move some displaced youth and staff back to the Gulf Coast region from its Omaha, Neb., headquarters near the end of September, but “the challenge there is going to be staff housing,” said Dan Daly, associate executive director of youth care.

Federal officials have discussed setting up temporary housing sites for people who have essential jobs, and Daly said GBT is “trying to make sure child care and meeting these kids’ needs is somewhere on that list.”

But agencies also have to keep their fingers crossed that their volunteers and kids return home soon, as well. Otherwise, they’ll have to rebuild their volunteer and client bases almost from scratch.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America tried to hold its network together by tracking down many of its adult mentors (“bigs”) and its youth (“littles”) and reconnecting them, at least by phone. It set up a web service and toll-free number to help bigs and littles find each other.

For many agencies, the key to solving some of these dilemmas lies in the schools. “We’ve been told by people in Orleans Parish that they will not have school this academic year,” said Daly of GBT.

That’s bad news: It would leave many communities with fewer children, fewer places for the existing youth to officially gather, and fewer venues to conduct their programs.

For instance, the town of Bogalusa in southeast Louisiana was hit especially hard, and the Camp Fire USA website says, “There is a lot of uncertainty as to when they [the Camp Fire council] could expect to provide programming, since they do so via the schools.”

On the other hand, in places that took in thousands of refugees, the schools are overflowing, and new schools have suddenly opened in empty buildings. That has created a massive increase in the need for out-of-school activities.

So far, however, youth development and other enrichment activities often haven’t even risen to the point of afterthoughts for most government agencies.

“The youth issue is being dropped, as far as looking at what are kids doing if they’re not in school,” said Carl Triplehorn, an emergency education specialist for Save the Children, who is helping schools and youth agencies in the damaged areas. “In this situation, out-of-school activities are not a luxury; they are a necessity.”

Linda Spears, spokeswoman for the Child Welfare League of America, sees lots of new issues ahead for child welfare agencies as they work both with people who remain displaced and those who return home.

“The long-term consequence is there will be more stress-related youth and family problems, and we’re starting to think about that now,” Spears said.


Child Welfare: An Agency Flees

When the Bethlehem Children’s Center in New Orleans had to evacuate its children and staff to Baton Rouge, La., Katherine Kerr drove there from Austin, Texas, for what she thought would be good publicity.

“I thought it would make for a feel-good story,” said Kerr, vice president of public relations for Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSS), which runs the center.

When the levees in New Orleans broke, destroying the center, her job suddenly got a lot more serious. Kerr had to help plan a move for the 45 youth, ages 5 to 17, in Bethlehem’s care.

She found a refuge at the Bokenkamp Center, one of LSS’ four children’s homes in Texas. Based in Corpus Christi, the home was in the midst of a $1.5 million expansion and had two new dormitories that were nearly completed. The plan was to put the children in the new dorms, find housing for the 10 Bethlehem staff members who made the trip, and go from there.

“But you don’t just move 45 kids in foster care across state lines,” Kerr said. “We had to get permission from Texas to move them. We’re licensed to serve 60 kids [at Bokenkamp], so we had to get permission to increase capacity. And of course, we had to get permission from Louisiana to take their kids across state lines.”

“I was making calls on landlines” from Baton Rouge, she said. “You could dial 30 times in a row and not get through. It was insane.”

The Austin staff had better luck with the Texas governor’s office, which said to do whatever was necessary to accommodate the New Orleans kids.

How long they will have to stay is hard to say. “It will probably take us a year and $3 million to rebuild the center,” Kerr said. “They will stay at Bokenkamp while we rebuild.”

But just when the hard part looked to be over, it was moving time again. As Hurricane Rita approached in late September, LSS had to at least temporarily evacuate the Bokenkamp Center to a church camp in Gonzales, Texas.

“The last thing we wanted to do was move these children and the staff yet again,” said LSS Chief Executive Officer Kurt Senske.

The charity also evacuated its home in Katy, near Houston, along with 23 “primary medical needs” foster children from along the Gulf Coast.

Youth Programs Start in Disaster Areas

At a time when most youth-serving programs in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina were shut down, Paige Ellison decided to start a few.

Ellison took a leave of absence from her pharmaceutical company to create Project K.I.D., which establishes and runs youth programs at shelters operated by the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The programs keep kids busy, using volunteer staff and donated supplies, such as toys and books.

Talk about doing youth work on the fly: As of mid-September, Ellison’s project didn’t even officially exist. “I’m filing the paperwork to incorporate tomorrow,” she said.

She did, however, have a hastily crafted website:

“We do a lot of big muscle play, a lot of balls, Hula Hoops and jump ropes,” she said. There are also “quieter activities: books, puzzles, coloring, finger painting.”

Her program in Ocean Springs, Miss., is in a “luxurious” setting by current standards, she said: an abandoned department store.
Her biggest problem has been finding and keeping enough volunteers, as people keep moving from place to place. “We’ve come in greater and greater demand with FEMA – greater demand than I can meet right now,” she said.

To help, she uses some older teens as volunteer staff for younger kids.

Ellison, an account manager for GlaxoSmithKline, said she ran child development programs for the military. Her church, Daphne United Methodist Church in Daphne, Ala., serves as the “fiscal agent” for the project, according to the project’s website.
As the number of families and potential volunteers dwindled at shelters, Ellison closed some programs and moved to other areas of need.

It’ll be good news when her program fades. The website says: “Project: K.I.D does not, however, seek to be a long-term provider of child care in devastated areas. Our presence at any site will last only as long as there is clear need for our services.”

Teen Mothers Do Youth Work

A teen mother living in a group home might understandably think she has a tough life – until she sees what the Katrina hurricane victims are going through.

So the 40 parenting teens at the Florence Crittenton Programs in Charleston, S.C., launched their own youth development initiative. The 12- to 19-year-olds in the agency’s residential and day programs created “Mothers Helping Mothers” to send supplies to hurricane victims.

To get donations, they sent out e-mails throughout the community, and wrote and sent press releases to the local news media, said Executive Director Andrea Thomas.

In the first week, Thomas said, the girls put together 110 baskets of personal care items. She said the girls loaded them onto a truck that a local United Methodist Church was using to take relief supplies to Houston.

Next, the girls put together first-aid kits, Thomas said. “They want it to go to other girls’ homes,” she said.

Girls and Boys Town Hits the Road

It’s one thing to suddenly move from New Orleans to, say, Houston. Imagine waking up in Omaha.
That’s where more than 60 youth, youth workers and family members landed after 10-day journeys to the main national campus of Girls and Boys Town (GBT).

While much has been made about why some people and organizations didn’t evacuate before Katrina hit, GBT evacuated relatively smoothly because it was old hat: This marked the third time in two years that its New Orleans area facilities have bugged out because of hurricane and flood warnings, said Dan Daly, associate executive director of youth care.
“We’re pretty good at this by now,” he said.

What they’re not used to is taking everyone all the way to Nebraska, which poses new challenges for the youth, the staff and the organization, both now and in the immediate future.

GBT had – and maybe still has – four group homes and two shelters in and around New Orleans. They are staff-secure facilities with comprehensive services for youth placed by the state’s child welfare and youth corrections agencies.

When state officials urged people to leave the area before the storm hit, GBT contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which provided two large buses. Onto those buses climbed not only 35 kids, but about 21 staff members and nine of their children.

Some of the youths wanted to leave the GBT facilities to be with their own families, Daly said, but only one boy did.
The buses pulled out two days ahead of the storm and drove to a Baton Rouge hotel that GBT has used during previous evacuations. They arrived only to find that “they had given our space away,” Daly said.

He can laugh about it now, saying “Maybe we’ve got to put down a deposit.”
That was one of several wrinkles that led the buses to San Antonio, where GBT has other facilities, Daly said. He said those facilities have a relationship with a church that provided an empty building where the kids and adults stayed. National GBT officials met them there, Daly said.

Soon it was off to Dallas, where they stayed in a hotel. Then Omaha.

There, the buses were met with waving crowds and open arms, 10 days after leaving New Orleans. Two of the 71 homes on the campus were empty and ready to accommodate many of the evacuees, Daly said. GBT converted two other buildings for their use, as well.

By evacuating the kids and staff together, Daly said, GBT has been able to provide some stability for the youth and continue providing services that they’re used to.

Aside from bringing in enough extra staff, he said, “the biggest administrative challenge is that we’re dealing with a group of kids and staff who would prefer not to be here.”

“Everybody’s been great,” he said. But GBT has worked hard to help the youth and staff find their families, who “are spread all over the South.”

The youth who fled a GBT facility for his family didn’t find them, Daly said. He stayed in the Houston Astrodome for a while, then was on his way to the GBT campus in Omaha.

Running Her Agency by Long Distance

As she sat in a Houston hotel, the executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) wasn’t sure she was allowed to do some of what she’s been doing to keep her agency together.

With her staff, board of directors and youth clients scattered around the country, Melissa Sawyer has been paying workers who aren’t working, tapping into grant money that’s intended to produce results for kids who aren’t being served, and getting approval from board members who can’t even get on the phone at the same time.

“It’s a time when you don’t really want to be running an organization,” Sawyer said.

YEP, based in New Orleans, provides case management to help adjudicated youth return to their communities. “Our kids and families – they were the people who were trying to hunker down” in their homes, she said.

As for YEP’s staff of five, Sawyer said they “just kind of took off to where they could make it.” Some left before the storm; some stayed. One man, she said, “ended up having to float out of his house and made it Baton Rouge.” Others ended up in Texas; one is in California.

Sawyer landed at a Holiday Inn in Houston, where hurricane evacuees could stay for free for two weeks, and where she could take her dog.

She considered trekking to the Houston Astrodome to help other evacuees, but admits that “for the first few days, I was so shaken up by all of this that I couldn’t get down there. I felt like I wasn’t even able to help myself, let alone someone else.”
Colleagues from other New Orleans social services organizations later told her that they went to the Astrodome but weren’t allowed in.

Sawyer has spent days and nights “trying to pay my staff as long as possible to make sure people’s lives aren’t destroyed.”
One wrinkle: “Three of our people didn’t even have direct deposit,” she said. Here’s what that little detail meant: Sawyer didn’t have paychecks with her. It took her a week to reach the agency’s bank. The bank sent checks to the woman who handles YEP’s payroll. That woman was at the home of her parents, who didn’t have the right computer software. The woman wrote the checks by hand and sent them by Fed Ex to Sawyer at the hotel, who shipped them out.
“It’s just an absolute fiasco,” she said.

She also called her local funders. “They’ve given us money for general operating support, but they also want to see outcomes,” she said. “Am I allowed to use that money for payroll?”

The funders told her “to just keep going.”

That she did, in a way the funders didn’t intend: As Hurricane Rita approached in late September, Sawyer’s hotel was evacuated.

By the time YEP’s staff returns home, there’s no telling whether any of their youth clients will be around, or whether YEP will have an office. Despite the looting in the city, Sawyer is hopeful that people didn’t bother hauling away the office computers, because there was no electricity.

“I heard people went in, took a bunch of those big water jugs” from some buildings, she said. “That’s fine by me. I’m glad people have water.”

Juvenile Justice: Rehab on Hold

Things were finally changing in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system, and it all started with Bridge City Center for Youth, which peers at New Orleans from across the Mississippi River.

Overcrowding and violence had long plagued the state’s juvenile justice facilities when Gov. Kathleen Blanco took office in January 2004. Envisioning a wholesale reform, she brought in consultants to shape the Bridge City site in the mold of the highly touted Missouri model.

But plans for a more rehabilitative approach are now on hold, as the area and its systems struggle to rebuild. Bridge City incurred only minor damage, including a torn roof and downed fences. But because it is the closest facility to the ravaged New Orleans area, officials say, it will be a while before youth set foot in Bridge City again.

The good news is that the 70 youth housed there when Katrina struck are fine. They were evacuated three days before the storm to Jetson, a juvenile facility in Baton Rouge, La. Jetson can accommodate all of Bridge City’s youth, said Catherine Heitman, communications director for the state’s Office of Youth Development (OYD).

“We have disaster plans in place,” Heitman said. “We know where the youth are to be moved. It’s just a matter of executing those plans as soon as possible.”

Detention centers in the affected areas also evacuated some 250 youths to Jetson, although more permanent plans for those youths were less settled.

OYD now faces several challenges in dealing with kids whose homes, and possibly families, are gone.

“Youth are very concerned, and the staff is responding to that,” said Heitman. As the Gulf Coast struggled to recover, OYD relied on the Red Cross system to track down family members of the Bridge City kids.

Another challenge is that many of OYD’s adjudicated wards will be up for release before the situation stabilizes along the Gulf Coast.

And yet another problem: Of those in detention awaiting trial, about 50 were admitted right before the hurricane hit; their records were washed away. So there’s no paper trail explaining why each one is locked up. “These kids could have not gone to school or missed class – or they could have committed armed robbery,” OYD Deputy Secretary Simon Gonsoulin told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

As the courts opened in mid-September, lawyers began to appeal to Orleans Parish Juvenile Judge Mark Doherty to release pre-adjudicated youth to their families.

“OYD did a really good job locating parents,” says David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. “Hopefully, the judge will let these kids go home.”

Camps Become Shelters

Camp Fire USA. 4-H. Faith-based. If any organization had a camp that was still standing after Katrina, it was probably drafted to house evacuees.

The American Camp Association (ACA) reports that 58 of its member camps in 10 states were pressed into service.
A Camp Fire program in Lake Charles, in southwest Louisiana, took in about 100 mentally and physically disabled adults and the staff from a residential facility called Rest Care, according to the national office. It said the camp was also trying to find and bring in the children of the Rest Care staff.

Such hospitality raises new issues for many of the facilities. At Lake Charles, the council sought donations to help fix up one of the camp’s roads, so that vans could come and go with the Rest Care residents.

For all the camps, directors had to face the fact that “they may or may not be reimbursed for what they’re providing,” said Wanda DeWaard of the Heart of the South region of the ACA. “The food, the electricity and the water are going to add up.”
Government and such groups as the Red Cross are helping with costs, but it’s not clear how far they’ll go. And DeWaard said the camps are being told they can expect to house hurricane refugees for two to three months.

“Everybody was happy to jump and provide,” she said, “but now everybody is asking: How do we sustain this?”

A YMCA Opens Its Doors

When the Red Cross set up a shelter for Katrina evacuees at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., the world inside the local YMCA turned upside down.

The Y is on the ground floor of the expo center – and suddenly, several thousand men, women and children were camped outside its doors.

What’s more, relief workers from miles around were beating a path to those same doors, because the Y had so much of what was in short supply: Showers. Working phones. Cots. Clean places for people to hold meetings or just take a break.

The Y, about 15 miles south of Baton Rouge, is primarily a membership health club. Soon after the evacuees arrived, however, it began running recreation and academic enrichment programs for the kids every afternoon. The youth have been divided into two large groups, rotating through the club in one-hour sessions, Hester said. One group does homework and gets tutoring, while the other “is burning some energy” through such activities as basketball, indoor soccer, parachute games and jump rope.
The Y has run several movie nights, projecting favorites such as “The Incredibles” on a wall. There’s popcorn, soda and candy.
Evacuees and relief workers also get to use the club. “Some play basketball, some come and work out on the equipment, some sit in the bleachers and socialize,” said Executive Director Chris Hester. “I think it’s therapeutic for a lot of parents to have their kids somewhere safe, so they can put their minds on something else.”

Relief workers came from as far away as New Orleans (about 50 miles southeast) just to take showers. The 35 members of the National Guard who are staying on cots there have “taken over our conference room, our kitchen and a couple of offices,” Hester said.

Two weeks after Katrina, Hester estimated that 2,000 evacuees and 1,200 relief workers had used his Y.
“It’s been a challenge to balance our services for paying members and also the services we’re trying to provide for the evacuees,” Hester said.

Because the local school population has suddenly grown with the influx of children, so has enrollment in after-school programs that the Y runs at several schools. The same is true of Ys in other areas that are taking in evacuees.

Doing all of this takes more manpower. Volunteers and paid staff have come from the community and from other Ys, Hester said. Fourteen came for several days from a Y in Ashland, Ky. Particularly useful, Hester said, was that “a couple were nurses.” Other Ys have sent supplies.

Some of the YMCA staff also went into the Red Cross shelter to serve meals and provide other help, Hester said.
While the demands on the Y will recede somewhat as evacuees return home or settle somewhere else, the facility will need to run at a higher level for quite some time.

Many of the evacuee children now attend a new school created at a nearby church. They’re bused back to the Y each day for after-school activities, Hester said.

“We’ve been told [by the Red Cross] to plan in 90-day blocks,” he said. “So we know we’ll have evacuees out there [in the expo center] until mid-November.”

Child Welfare: The System

Not surprisingly, the Louisiana child welfare system was no match for Katrina. “They’re really scrambling,” said Frank Eckles, executive director of the International Child and Youth Care Network, based in College Station, Texas.

The woman running the system is inclined to agree. “We’re struggling greatly with determining what is a short-term and long-term goal here,” said Marketa Garner-Gautreau, assistant secretary for the Office of Community Services within the state’s Department of Social Services.

The main long-term concerns will be finding space for youth in residential centers, accounting for displaced youth in foster and kinship care, and reconnecting with missing staff members.

The nine residential child welfare centers in the affected area were evacuated before the storm. But the youth are now squeezed into facilities that weren’t meant to hold them. Catholic Charities’ Southern Louisiana residential center moved its 84 kids to its northern center. “But [that building] can’t handle those kids for long,” Garner-Gautreau said.

She said it will be difficult to move youth in the residential centers into other parts of the child welfare system. “They are typically those with behavior disorders, or who are unruly,” she said. “Most are teens, and all are among the hardest to place.”
Youth in foster and kinship care might be harder to manage. Many aren’t even in the state any more, and many of their caseworkers are dealing with their own personal crises.

“I guess the task that’s most daunting is figuring out how to deploy staff to the affected areas, and what to do then,” Garner-Gautreau said.

Her office activated a toll-free number for foster parents, youth and dislocated child welfare staff to check in. One of the major concerns is ensuring that youth who need medication get it.

Katrina Resources

A selected listed of youth-related agencies and initiatives seeking and offering help.

American Camp Association (ACA)
Information for and about camps involved in the disaster and relief efforts, including contact information for ACA regions with camps serving as evacuation sites, and a list of considerations – such as insurance coverage – for camps hosting evacuees.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Home page includes “Katrina’s Effect” button that links to a form to donate money or volunteer services, and to a way for “bigs” and “littles” from the affected areas to find and contact each other.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Offers a summary of damage to clubs, stories of how clubs and youth are helping hurricane victims, and advice for helping kids cope with disaster.

Boy Scouts of America on the “Hurricane Katrina Recovery” pages allow units to seek or offer assistance to scouting offices in affected areas. A “local council locator” enables users to find troop relief efforts in their communities, and another link lets visitors make financial donations.

Camp Fire USA
Needs include volunteers, money and building supplies to repair facilities for both youth and evacuees. The site lists contact information and specific requests for hurricane-affected councils.

Campaign for Youth
The campaign calls on youth-serving agencies to “unite, set aside turf and blend their expertise,” while restoring hope and promise to young people in the Gulf region. Includes recommendations and action plans for youth development efforts in affected areas.

Child Welfare League of America
Website includes updates about member agencies in stricken states, and member agencies can log on to a disaster relief bulletin board. Also has information about the Katrina Kids Fund, which provides immediate support to children and families served by the child welfare system, and about an upcoming celebrity auction for Katrina relief.

Coalition on Human Needs
Information on access to Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, unemployment benefits and other services for people displaced by the storm.

Connect for Kids
Resources on policies developed by government agencies to help the displaced; donating, volunteering, and receiving help from various nonprofit agencies; and support for kids and families dealing with post-hurricane trauma.

Food Research and Action Center
Details on federal hunger and nutrition assistance programs for Hurricane Katrina victims, including food stamps, National School Lunch, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service and WIC.

Girl Scouts of the USA
Lists requests for help from Girl Scout councils in hurricane-affected areas. Needs include duffle bags, gift cards from national retail chains, children’s books and games, and cash.

Government Services
A comprehensive guide to health, safety and other government services from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hope Venture Grants
MTV and Youth Venture are offering Hope Venture grants of up to $1,000 to youths who wish to start an organization, club or business to help people affected by Katrina. Grants are available to groups of two or more people, ages 13 to 20, who submit plans for immediate relief efforts or long-term community projects.

Hurricane Katrina LGBT Relief Fund
Links to a secure donation site set up by the National Youth Advocacy Coalition to benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and their families in the region. The site includes links to partner agencies assisting in LGBT hurricane relief efforts.

Katrina’s Kids
Web portal set up by America’s Promise-The Alliance for Youth to steer people to mentoring, after-school, children’s health and other programs seeking money, supplies and volunteers.

National Foster Parent Association
Contact information and donation requests from local foster parent associations coordinating donations for victims, and links to sites that offer information on the educational needs of displaced children and housing for displaced families.

National Youth Court Center
Accepting donations to help National Youth Court Center colleagues who have lost homes and workplaces in the hurricane region.

Scholarship America
Donations designated “Disaster Relief Fund” will provide assistance to low-income youth attending institutions in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi counties that are declared federal disaster areas.

We’ve Got Your Back
An initiative urging kids to fill backpacks with school supplies, nonperishable food and personal care items and send them to a distribution location in Houston – and to mobilize other kids at their schools to do the same.

Youth Service America
Lists organizations involved in the relief effort, and provides project planning tools and resources, including a downloadable project planning toolkit, to help youth set up and carry out relief efforts.

YMCA of the USA
Seeks donations to help rehabilitate YMCAs damaged by the hurricane.
Posts messages from YWCAs in the hurricane area, collects donations for Ys, and offers help for victims through the YWCA.