4 Ways Hurricane Katrina Changed My Life

11 years ago. It seems like a couple of lifetimes have gone by.

Last week, while vacationing with family in Florida, I had the occasion to drive from Panama City through Biloxi to New Orleans, a place I had visited previously under far different circumstances. Ruminating on changes in my life since then brought our some intriguing observations…

In 2005 I had the remarkable opportunity to travel, with a handful of others, to Mississippi to perform hurricane relief post Katrina. At the time I couldn’t have known what sort of impact this trip would have on my life. To this day it remains one of the more impactful things I have ever done, aside from having and raising children. Performing hurricane relief set my life on a trajectory I never could have imagined, other than to look back on how my life has changed since.

Our Mississippi Relief Team

It put me in touch with my love for helping people…

This has become an obsession. I have always found it rewarding to help others, however nothing in my life has ever been as rewarding as helping those in a time of need. Call it what you want, the golden rule, karma or whatever, I have made helping others the cornerstone of my career. Helping is what I volunteered for after six years on the Social Media Club board of directors. It was helping that recently connected me to a group of artists and organizers. I joined the M5Arts team and we developed the Art Hotel, another monumental experience.

More so however than just giving back, I have adopted a mode of service and helping others in how I work. As a business leader, sometimes it is how I equip our staff and other times it is how I work with our clients. I like to think that with our services comes a level teaching and collaboration to make our clients more successful. Had I not unlocked the “helping others” accomplishment while serving after Katrina, I can’t help but feel that ingredient, a critical part of the secret sauce that makes up MKTNG, would be missing.

It taught me about resilience…

Resilience is something. While I was in Mississippi, they would talk about the water levels and hurricane wind strength from previous storms. When speaking with a couple of residents in particular, they mentioned Hurricane Camille. “When Camille came the water level was over there, and that home was damaged”. They spoke with a familiarity as though it was last year. However, Camille is a hurricane from 1969; one of the five worst and in the last century. These people had developed resilience to these storms. Moving was never a consideration, always just rebuilding. Their ability to weather and recover was an inspiration.

Resilience and determination is something my accountant pointed out to me when I approached her to incorporate and start MKTNG; I have used the same accountant since 2005. Fortunately, I have never had to deal with a literal hurricane sweeping through and destroying everything I own. I have, however, weathered some significant storms professionally and personally. In the past decade I have switched careers, started four companies,and gone through a divorce. It’s an incredibly valuable lesson, that when storms rock the foundations of your life, you rebuild – stronger and more determined.

It is when I first used social media…

I owned my own business in 2005, a custom cabinetry company. The day prior to leaving to Mississippi I was speaking to my good friend and website developer, Jeremiah Labresh. He asked that I maintain a blog while I was away. I had never heard of a blog in 2005. Jeremiah set it up for me HERE and I promised to maintain it as I traveled. Everyday I drove thirty minutes from our home base in Mississippi back to the airport terminal, which was the closest Wi-Fi at the time, and I would spend a couple hours writing about our day. The writing was cathartic. Sharing about our activities put me at ease. Most impressive, however, was how friends, family and those who helped finance our work had a daily (which back then seemed nearly real-time) connection to our work. No longer was a slide show or report required upon our return. People could observe and, in a way never before, participate in our work.

After our return, I coordinated blogs for about a dozen other relief trips. Within a couple years, I was developing blogs for businesses and subsequent employers. When I first left construction and began focusing on business development and marketing services, I focused on blogging and social media. It was after I connected with Social Media Club Sacramento that my career in social media marketing, and subsequently, agency marketing, came into focus. It all started with that blog that I kept during our Hurricane Katrina relief trip.

It is when I became an activist and an organizer…

Katrina was a call to action for me. The work was more than I or our team could perform alone. There was also an overwhelming concern among the organizers in Mississippi that attention would wane, and that in a year help would stop coming. What compounded the residents’ issues was that insurance companies classified the damage as flood damage, rather than hurricane wind damage, meaning that their insurance policies were either useless or limited in their value. A long-term and sustained effort was going to be required in order to bring the region back to health. Upon my return to Sacramento, I immediately began a campaign that resulted in a dozen more trips to Mississippi over the next three years. Several of the teams provided construction services, but we also connected youth in our region to the Gulf Coast and we provided services to children affected by the storm.

As I have aged I thought that the youthful fire in my belly would subside, that eventually I would settle down and become a quiet sage. NOPE! As I have shared, I have only become more involved, more active, even more shit disturbing the older I get. I make no apologies. I wear it as a badge of honor now. In the last six years, I could not be more proud of the work I performed volunteering with the Social Media Club (emphasis on with, the work was not mind alone). As I turn new pages, closing our first year at MKTNG and beginning to work with more independent arts projects in our region, I look forward to seeing what comes next.

As I look back over my life since Katrina, I still see remnants from my own storms, but I mostly see what I’ve gained from helping others, how I’ve grown more resilient and that I’ve learned valuable skills from difficult situations. As is often the case, giving has many great rewards.