Robert Whittington - Commercial Fisherman
The Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund
Following the Hurricanes on 2005, the Greater New Orleans Foundation became a conduit for national investment and private philanthropy in the Greater New Orleans region. As often happens in a disaster, donors turn to the local community foundation because of its intimate knowledge of the local nonprofit community. To meet this need, the Foundation established the Rebuild New Orleans Fund shortly after Hurricane Katrina. National foundations, corporations, families and individuals contributed millions to this fund to help with rebuilding efforts.
Recognizing the similar need to enable national and even international investment in the region following the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil spill, the Foundation established the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund to assist the coastal communities directly impacted by the spill. We are funding philanthropic dollars back into the effected communities on short and long-term bases. To date, $175,000 in grants have been made to community serving organizations including the Seedco Southeast Louisiana Fisheries Assistance Center, Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Vietnamese American Youth Leadership Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
The Foundation has been deeply connected with Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard Parishes. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to ensure that the rebuilding process in these three coastal parishes was spearheaded by leaders who live and work there, we launched and funded community based affiliate foundations in each of the three parishes. In August 2009, we broadened our reach to five additional parishes – including Terrebonne and Lafourche - by allocating $625,000 for grant-making.
Our work in the fishing communities of southeast Louisiana began in 2007 when we invited Seedco Financial to establish the Southeast Louisiana Fisheries Assistance Center, located in Plaquemines Parish. The center is the first and only one-stop resource center for fisheries in Louisiana and provides financial assistance and comprehensive business services to commercial fishermen. The first grant approved from the Oil Spill Fund was a $50,000 emergency grant to the Fisheries Assistance Center to provide additional staffing support during the crisis: up to 100 fishermen per day were visiting the center for assistance. Additional grants from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund have been made to the Louisiana SPCA, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
In the short-term, we aim to preserve these fishermen’s livelihoods and communities. We will also advance strategies for commercial fishers to include 1) helping to bring best practices in how to position an environmentally "impacted" fishery to weather the present storm and to re-deploy itself as soon as possible, and 2) helping to devise a "commercial outreach strategy" that includes both marketing and a targeted informational campaign to fish consumers throughout the country.
In many respects, GNOF has understood the fundamental interdependence of southeastern Louisiana’s rural parishes and the metropolitan hub of New Orleans virtually since its founding more than 87 years ago. The long-term strategies of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund address, in a strategic manner, some of the most pressing challenges facing our region through three program areas:
I. Civic Engagement and Leadership
Many observers have commented that levels of civic engagement rose significantly after the breaking of the levees. Because local, state, and federal governments failed to respond adequately to the crisis, individuals took matters into their own hands. Citizens became organized to help their neighbors and save their neighborhoods. Increasingly they engaged in the monitoring of public entities and policymakers. They began to expect more from local government. Many nonprofit organizations were launched.
The goal of the Civic Engagement and Leadership Program is to join Orleans Parish with its southern neighbors in advocating for the coast at the state and federal levels. In the short-term, our strategy focuses on 1) creating linkages around the issue of coastal restoration among political/civic leaders and institutions, and 2) educating the affected public about emerging state restoration plans and the effects that they will have on settlement patterns and the still local economies. In the longer term, we will focus on regional leadership development and training to influence national efforts that seek to create a healthy Mississippi River Delta, stem wetlands loss, and create a region that grows and manages its surface water in a more sustainable way.
2. Environment and Sustainable Communities
Ever since the disasters brought about by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, as well as Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, residents have had to make major adjustments in how they respond to increasingly dangerous storms. Whether man-made, such as the BP oil catastrophe, or natural, these disasters have critical repercussions for the most vulnerable people in our communities—low-income and working families, children, and the elderly. The experiences of the last five years have spurred a level of community engagement rooted in a commitment to better preparation, advocacy for fair and humane public policies for relief, and rebuilding in a manner that is smarter, safer, and more equitable. Clearly our region’s future will be significantly shaped by our responses to its unique environmental challenges.
The goal of the Environment and Sustainable Communities Program is, year after year, to encourage resilience, adaptation, sustainability, and ecological, economic, and cultural vitality through support for equitable, environmentally focused policies and programs. Our strategy is to support 1) the implementation of environmentally-related best practices that will have an immediately beneficial and measurable impact on the lives of our citizens and on the long-term viability of our economy; 2) transformation of processes and systems that impede equitable progress; 3) practical revision of zoning regulations to reflect current opportunities and needs; 4) land use and planning as well as community organizing and education to ensure state and federal investment; 5) the development of soft engineering solutions to managing surface water challenges, such as rain gardens, permeable surfaces, roof gardens, cisterns which are part of a water recycling system, and planning for more compact communities that conserve valuable absorptive land; and 6) the creation of sound water policy as it relates to the Mississippi River as an ecosystem, transportation corridor, and revitalizing community amenity. Through these strategies, we will create an adaptive culture through the building of resilient housing, integrated water management infrastructure, and equitable planning, which is the only alternative to mass migration further inland.
3. Sustainable Economic Development
Geographic isolation and concentrations of low-income people in our coastal region have been exacerbated by the recent disasters. Gaining access to opportunity – especially for our African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American communities – is increasingly difficult because of high housing and transportation costs, shifts in job creation away from low-skilled work, and the exodus of major corporations from the metropolitan New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina. We believe that the development of water management technologies and the bringing to scale of these inventions will lead to new career opportunities for local residents that are well paying and enduring. Cultivated in the correct manner, they can lead to workforce opportunities that can, in turn, make our region into a world leader in such areas as integrated surface water management and resilient construction – areas that the Dutch, for example, have mastered and now export for profit.
To drive the development of this new economy in our region, the Sustainable Economic Development Program will support 1) economic opportunities that are unique to the region’s resources, such as traditionally viable industries in agriculture, fisheries, and energy production; 2) workforce development programs that are specifically tailored to emerging careers in such fields as wetlands restoration, innovative surface water management, planning and engineering; 3) workforce development programs conducted by professional trade organizations and community development financial institutions; and 4) non-traditional youth outreach and training which includes after-school education efforts geared toward empowerment, self-esteem and self-discipline, wealth creation and asset-building. With this “blue ocean” strategy, we can begin not only preserving our coastal communities but also improving the lives of people whose economic status has been limited by a combination of geographic isolation and over-dependence on unsustainable industries.
Grant made to SPCA Animal Relief Program
Citizens are trained to monitor air quality