New Orleans – Two Days in the Garden District Thursday, Mar 29 2012 

Another article that I have written for

“Originally known for its sprawling gardens surrounding ornate Greek Revival and Italianate mansions, the Garden District has gradually become known for its unique architecture. Today, the tree-filled streets of the Garden District are home to hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as grand southern mansions – some still single-family owned. The Garden District has also served as home to many celebrities over the years including Anne Rice, Trent Reznor, Nicholas Cage, Sandra Bullock and John Goodman.

With easy access to buses and the St. Charles streetcar, the Garden District is also very walkable. You can easily spend days wandering by the neighborhood’s beautiful homes and gardens. We’ve designed this easy, two-day overview so you can hit the highlights.”

See the rest of the article here…


Thoughts about my upcoming adventure!! Thursday, Mar 29 2012 

As April.28th moves closer and closer the more excited I am getting about embarking on this amazing journey to New Orleans. I am beginning to form relationships with some of the people I am traveling to Nola with and it is amazing how much some of us have in common with other another, be it music tastes, or even our favorite breakfast foods. I am blessed to be getting to know these people I am traveling with and I am hoping to make some lifelong friends from this experience that we are sharing with one another.

I have also been collecting things to bring with me. I went to CAA and got every book they have on New Orleans and I also got a book about New Orleans for Christmas which I am totally bringing it has a map and tells me where to shop, eat and where to go see amazing things which excites me.

Although I am getting pumped about traveling to Nola and seeing the amazing landscape I am more interested in getting to know the residents of New Orleans. I have been doing a lot of reading on Katrina and I am developing a lot of feelings about the people who suffered its wrath, people I haven’ t even met yet. I have developed strong feelings of strength for them and they have truly shown me the understanding of courage and determination. It is impossible for me to understand exactly what they felt and experienced by readings and videos so I am looking forward to hearing their stories and getting to know these people personally. I am so inspired by them already and I can’t wait to meet the residents of New Orleans and get to know them on a more personal level.

Overall I can’t express how blessed I feel to be a part of this experience and I am looking forward to this journey!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Amanda Leathen

As I Master the Art of Packing Wednesday, Mar 28 2012 

Having not being given the opportunity to travel much, I must say the anticipation of packing is starting to get to me. Even though I am not a materialistic nor do I need more than a brush to do my hair, chapstick for my face, and sweatpants to be comfy…how do I fit my room into my bag! I mean I wake up and my toothpaste and brush are ready to be used. My towel is nice and dry, and I can grab a fresh one if needed. If I feel the humidity will turn my hair into a frizz ball, I can switch to my “frizz destroyer” shampoo and condition. I guess home is home. I am now realizing how blessed I am to have all the things I need to make me feel comfortable. Having this reality to check, forcing me to get back to the very basics, has allowed me to value what I have. A home I can come to and have everything at reach. I then imagine having my home, my personal things and favourite comfort items disappear in the water. I start to empathize how it must have felt to lose these things that you can maybe never get back.

Although I can’t bring my room, I know that when I come home it will all be there and not lost. Coming home and my home will still be there is something that may not be a guarantee for everyone. I hope in New Orleans I can assist a family to get back to a place where they can come home and have all their special things with them!

Until then… I am determined to not leave my packing until the day before my flight!

Part 2 – DR404-12 SWLAFLD Saturday, Mar 17 2012 

Second day with the Red Cross up in Carencro, Louisiana. For some great photos of the flooding (to the extent that pictures of a disaster can be called great) see here and here for an article  and videos about people still trapped in their homes.

We were getting ready this morning to go out to a couple homes to do casework when one of the Damage Assessment Teams called in to report a neighbourhood in need of clean-up kits. So we loaded the car and headed out. Sure enough, there was extensive flooding. The street was on a hill so those at the bottom had more flooding than those at the top. One house had four feet; most had two-three feet.

We met Miss V. first. She lives closer to the top of the street. Her lawn was covered in clothes. They belonged to her neighbours. Many of them. She was washing clothes and helping out in cleaning as much as she could. I mentioned this to my bf Joey and he said something like “That’s the way we do it in Louisiana.” I knew that, but at the same time it’s so great to see it in action.

We went door to door, talking to folks and handing out the cleaning kits. At the bottom of the street we came across Miss C. She had incurred four feet  of water in her house and showed us some pictures. When the flooding came she evacuated grabbing only her purse, her dogs, the clothes she had on and her car keys. When she got to the top of the street she realized she couldn’t go any further. All the exit roads were blocked with flooding so she spent the day there.

But she told us that she’s lucky; she has flood insurance, most of her neighbours don’t. Yet, as she told us her story, and pictures of her houses –she and her husband have already gutted it four feet up all around the first floor– her eyes welled up several times. But at one point, she said “If I had a choice, I would sell. I don’t want to go through this again” and started crying. Yet, she also admitted that it’s been less than a week and that her feelings may change.

Later that day most of the houses on that street were declared as having major damage so we were able to go back to start providing financial assistance. We only had time to do two houses and went to Miss C.’s house first.  Red Cross, when a disaster meets certain criteria, is able to provide disaster-related emergency assistance in certain areas; for this disaster that includes clothing/shoes, food/groceries, storage containers and bedding.

As I mentioned yesterday, 91% of Red Cross spending is for humanitarian services and programs. The amount of funding isn’t huge; it is, after all, intended to be emergency assistance. Red Cross is very cognizant that their funding, as an NGO, is from individuals; “donated by the American public” is a catch-phrase I heard yesterday and found myself using a couple times today.  What strikes me about important in terms of Red Cross funding is that it doesn’t require a ton of hoops on the client’s part. Once the damage has been assessed and Red Cross has determined its level of involvement, casework can be done in 45 minutes to an hour. At the end of that time clients are given a special credit card. While some people in this flood may get insurance money down the road – it is just that, down the road. People need help now and Red Cross is there to help today.

Miss C. and her husband were so grateful for the assistance we were able to provide. One question that we ask at the end is “Would you state that the Red Cross has been able to meet all of your disaster-related emergency needs?” Miss C said “oh yes, it’s more than I imagined we could get.” And started crying again. She gave us each a long hug as we left to head to the neighbours, saying “Thank you. thank you so much.”

Tomorrow we go back to the same street to provide assistance to a few of her neighbours. Can’t wait!!

From the Red Cross website: “The American Red Cross is where people mobilize to help their neighbors—across the street, across the country, and across the world—in emergencies. Each year, in communities large and small, victims of some 70,000 disasters turn to neighbors familiar and new—the more than half a million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross.”

DR 404-12 SWLAFLD Friday, Mar 16 2012 


Goods removed from a home following the flood.

I’m in a hotel in Scott, Louisiana, a suburb of Lafayette. I drove up this morning to help with the latest disaster to hit Louisiana, what the American Red Cross is calling DR 404-12, (Disaster Relief) SWLAFLD (SouthWest Louisiana Flood). Heavy rains fell overnight Sunday into Monday morning. In some areas – especially in Carencro – there was up to 19 inches of rain and 7 feet of water on the streets. Interestingly enough, there has been very little media coverage about this in the New Orleans area (at least on TV) but supposedly CNN has been covering it. For a great summary please read this.

My last DR (in Vermont in Aug/Sept for Hurricane Irene) was extremely stressful. Already, after just a day of being here I feel like I have done more concrete work; admittedly shelters – especially on the night shift – are very low-key. But it was clear today to see how my contributions were valued and needed.

Today I drove up – left Abita Springs at 6am!! – in time for a morning orientation/update session for the Disaster Assessment and Client Casework volunteers. I spent the morning helping develop sample forms to assist with Client Casework (which starts tomorrow). I was also able to edit materials and double-check data for errors; my writing/editing skills are being put to good use. In the afternoon I attended the Client Casework Training and then organized all the materials and documents caseworkers will need.


Flooded contents (and possibly vehicle).

It was also determined that I have amazing handwriting skills; really, I just did what my dad does which is to write in block print. It’s clear, easy to read and leaves very little room for confusion. But, nonetheless, I was asked to write up everything from the staffing flowchart to the sample forms to labels.

It was also noted — and my mom and bf should likely put down any drinks so as not to spew their contents in disbelief — that I am incredibly organized. Mom? Joey? Still with me? I think in part it comes from being able to see both the big picture and the little details at the same time. When you concentrate on just one aspect you tend to lose perspective.

Tomorrow I will be going out to do some client casework, and then depending upon demand will likely be doing data entry on Sunday.

Tonight we found out (and I only know because I am rooming with the Client Casework lead) that Red Cross National has approved funding so that Client Assistance Cards (CACs) can be provided to people with major damage (which is usually more than 36 inches of flooding) or those whose housing was completely destroyed. These funds can be used for food, bedding, storage containers, clothing, shoes, diapers etc.

In a future post I will share some thoughts about Environmental Justice and Disasters…but 7am comes very early (especially since my roommate is getting up at 530am!!!). I’ll leave you with an interesting tidbit from the ARC website: “An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.”


Mylar balloons danced in the wind amongst the debris pulled from a trailer.

Fundraiser update…. Thursday, Mar 8 2012 

The March 4 event raised…….2020.00! and we got a little press in the Parkdale Villager.


March 4 Fundraising Success at Quinn West! Monday, Mar 5 2012 

Cajun jambalya, creole music, sweet baked goods and a fine silent auction combined with friends, families, strangers and dogs made for a lovely afternoon fundraiser for CINT 912.  Quinn West, 1479 Queen Street West, in Toronto was our host with The Uplifters band (Dave Clark, Jason Kenemy, Michael Herring and special guests Rebecca Hennesey and Paul Kolinski) who entertained the crowed with original songs and some New Orleans favorites.  The bake table sold out, a fountain flowed with punch and jambalya and cornbread were served all afternoon. The silent auction items varied from fine art to massage gift certificates and a signed Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, with some competitive bidding down to the wire!

The event was organized with amazing help from Cynthia Ravindran and Erica Quinn, with thanks to Jesse, Hannah, Alessia, Lucy and Roxanne for volunteering all day from set up to clean up.What a lovely way to spend a sunny, Sunday afternoon.


Anne ZbitnewImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage


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