- Posted August 6, 2013 by
Hurricane Katrina Volunteer Celebrates Recovery as the 8th Anniversary of the Disaster Approaches
Raphael "Iray" Nabatoff’s life changed completely in January 2006. When he heard about the overwhelming devastation hurricane Katrina caused all along the Gulf Coast, Iray left his home in Acworth, NH and went to Louisiana to volunteer.
Iray originally intended to stay for just a few weeks, working in a relief kitchen to prepare hot, healthy meals for disaster-affected residents. But as he talked with people who had lost everything -- from clothes to cars to pets to homes, and even family members – Iray knew he couldn't just walk away. His plans for a short stay quickly turned into a long-term commitment.
With his mind made up, Iray flew back to New Hampshire, put his former life on hold, then returned to Louisiana in February 2006. Iray settled in St Bernard Parish (county), just outside New Orleans, which had been totally flooded when the levees broke. Even today the population of this county is barely half of what it was before hurricane Katrina, and vacant lots showing where flooded homes were demolished and never rebuilt are still common sights.
Living first in a tent, and later in a FEMA trailer, Iray brought together disaster survivors to found the nonprofit Community Center of St Bernard. After extensive renovation of a Katrina-damaged building, the Center opened its doors in January 2007 with Iray as the unpaid fulltime volunteer Executive Director, a position he still holds.
Iray's goal was for the Community Center to provide a “one-stop shop” where St Bernard residents could receive free, local access to essential recovery resources from across the greater New Orleans area at one convenient location. This facilitates the ability of local families to both become aware of and have ready access to the help they need as they work to rebuild their lives and their communities.
Seven years have now passed since the Community Center was founded, and under Iray’s guidance it continues its mission of providing emergency relief services to disaster-affected families.
When the Gulf Oil Spill threatened the livelihoods of coastal St Bernard residents during 2010, and again when hurricane Isaac struck in August 2012, the Center was there to help immediately with food, clothes, information, referrals, and emotional support.
In just the past year:
• The Center’s Food Pantry has given out 261,503 lbs of food to 2,987 unduplicated low-income individuals.
• An additional 104,280 lbs have been given out to low-income senior citizens through the Food for Seniors program
• Office staff have passed out 5,827 flyers, brochures and pamphlets to help families find the help they need. They've also made 3,671 referrals.
• 189 people have signed up for the Community Center’s free computer classes
• The Clothing Bank has been accessed 7,068 times.
• 1,414 people have received assistance in applying for the federal Food Stamps program
• And 1,289 individuals have receive Medicaid enrollment assistance
• 6,186 free books have been given out in the Center’s reading area.
• And the Center’s media lab (internet computers, public phones, fax & copying services) has been used 2,987 times.
Iray’s success over the past 7 years in turning the Community Center of St Bernard from a simple vision into a real bricks-and-mortar facility where thousands of disaster-affected families have come for practical assistance with rebuilding their lives and their communities is truly a reason to celebrate as the 8th anniversary of hurricane Katrina approaches.