Flying into my home town of New Orleans on a National Guard helicopter shortly after Katrina’s floodwaters receded 12 years ago, I saw devastation so great that I wondered how many of the hundreds of thousands who fled — nearly half the population — would ever return. I had no idea then that a tragedy that caused more than $100 billion in damage and took 1,800 lives would lead to the rebirth of our city and bring it back even stronger.
A little-known part of the story of the rebirth of New Orleans is the role national service played.
I was on that helicopter because I had been asked to serve as vice chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Early on, I met with a group of Teach for America corps members. Since it was unclear whether the school system would reopen, they had been given the choice to relocate. Instead, they stayed in New Orleans and took on a grand mission: to build a new type of school system that would be better than the old one. Instead of shrinking, the Teach for America corps quadrupled in three years.