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Amid Tragedy, Southern CF Volunteers Show Amazing Strength

McGowan Working Partners employees (l-r) Jacqueline Whitehead, Linda Reid, Linda Bouldin and Debbie Chapman won the Spirit Award at the Mississippi Chapter’s CF Bowl for Breath.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, struggling to rebuild their lives. Exhibiting great strength amid such adversity, the people of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi came together to help one another. Many continued to give back to their communities despite losing nearly everything. CF volunteers from Katrina-devastated areas were no different, coming out in force to help raise money for cystic fibrosis research.

Ashley Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Chapter-New Orleans Office, remembers wondering, “How do I ask people who have lost everything to give to the Foundation?” Mills, however, quickly realized that she would not have to ask. Rallying together, volunteers vowed not to let this terrible tragedy halt critical fund-raisers.

In 2006, during the first post-Katrina GREAT STRIDES walk in New Orleans, participants displaced because of the hurricane continued their fund-raising efforts. Despite losing his home, CF father Keith St. Etienne commuted two hours to New Orleans from Baton Rouge to help organize the walk and raised $15,000 through his letter-writing campaign. “We wanted to show people that while New Orleans was physically destroyed, people’s spirits were not,” St. Etienne said. “Funding CF research was just too important to all of us.”

After a direct hit by Katrina demolished John Slidell Park, the spring GREAT STRIDES walk in Pearl River, La., was postponed until October. Nevertheless, volunteers pushed to draw new sponsors, including North Shore Regional Medical Center and Tenet Healthcare Foundation, and raised more money with more walkers than ever before.

The Alabama Chapter also inspired overwhelming generosity and support despite hardships. In Mobile, Ala., Katrina tore up the golf course and reception spot for the CF Foundation’s Spring Hill Toyota Invitational. Nevertheless, all 30 golfers who signed up came out to support the event. Not needing a fancy hotel, golfers ate their meals on the course and had a wonderful time, raising more than $34,000 in the event’s first year.

In Mississippi, Katrina took down more than 90 percent of building structures in the Gulf Coast region, leaving many without power and even homes. Six months later, people were still cleaning debris and using tarps as roofs.  With unwavering commitment, volunteers across the state found ways to continue their letter-writing campaigns. The employees of McGowan Working Partners in Jackson reached an all-time high of $25,000 from their fund-raising efforts. By the end of 2006, the Mississippi Chapter recorded a 27 percent increase from its GREAT STRIDES walks.

Of the volunteers’ devotion after Hurricane Katrina, Mills stated, “When people have no homes or live in temporary housing and they continue to raise money, it shows their steadfast commitment to finding a cure for CF.”