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Three years after the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Gulf Region continues to suffer loss of educational facilities, a fractured health care system, rising unemployment rates and the pervasive poverty and poor academic achievement prevalent prior to the storms. Families now suffer from two blows—one from the storms and now another from recession-driven factors resulting in the high cost of gas, utilities, rent and food.
In April 2006, CDF released Katrina's Children: A Call to Conscience and Action. In the ensuing months, despite the valiant efforts of many organizations and individuals and much media attention, far too little had been done to protect children—and adults—whose chronic and acute post-traumatic stress disorders continue. In March 2007, the Children's Defense Fund issued, Katrina's Children: Still Waiting, an update of the 2006 report. Katrina's Children: Still Waiting reported:
Also in 2007, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Southern Regional and Louisiana offices of CDF organized an effort to address the plight of the still, thousands of displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. The effort produced The Katrina Citizens Leadership Corps (KCLC), made up of over 250 displaced residents from the Gulf Region. The group sought to highlight and offer strategic solutions to the maze of problems and issues confronting displaced families and children as they try to make their way home. The KCLC released an exhaustive report on their findings, What It Takes to Rebuild a Village After a Disaster: Stories from Internally Displaced Children and Families of Hurricane Katrina and Their Lessons for Our Nation, in July 2009.
After the hurricane, CDF-Louisiana organized and hosted ten Katrina Child Watch visits, including the "Prominent Women" visit in May 2006 (see photo slideshow below), with CDF Board Members Carol Biondi, Ruth-Ann Huvane, Katie McGrath and Reese Witherspoon, as well as other prominent women, including Karen Binswanger, Malaak Compton-Rock, Jennifer Garner, Felicia Henderson, Jane Kaczmarek, Charmaine Neville, Deborah Newmyer, CCH Pounder, Cicely Tyson and Ali Wentworth, to raise awareness of the actual conditions and multiple challenges children continue to experience post-Katrina. To reach the American public with the plight of these children, CDF-Louisiana hosted visits from representatives from the FDIC, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, BET and CBS' "60 Minutes."
Thousands of Katrina's children were scattered across our nation, uncertain whether they ever will be able to return home. Many who remained in their storm devastated states were packed into flimsy, temporary, overcrowded trailers in FEMA camps that are no place for children—or any human being—in this wealthy nation for any significant period of time, while housing reconstruction moves at a snail’s pace and violence flares in New Orleans.
The CDF Freedom Schools after-school model was piloted during the 2005–2006 academic year to serve children and families displaced to central and northern Mississippi by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. CDF partnered with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and local agencies, school districts and universities to operate 26 weeks of after-school programming for 600 children at nine program sites in Cleveland, Columbia, Jackson, Metcalfe and Tougaloo, Mississippi. Also provided were transportation, food, clothing, school supplies, books, homework assistance and tutoring.
Building on the strength of the work in Mississippi immediately following the disasters, in the fall of 2005, CDF began organizing women leaders to help open the first CDF Freedom Schools program site in New Orleans as an emergency response to the health and mental health risk exposures that children were (and many are still) encountering. The year-round CDF Freedom Schools site, operated directly by CDF, opened in May 2006 and continues in operation today. By the end of summer 2007, more than 1,750 children were being served at 31 CDF Freedom Schools program sites in the Gulf Region. The Louisiana Department of Social Services supported 25 full-day CDF Freedom Schools summer programs that served over 1,400 children in Baton Rouge, Convent, Franklinton, Kenner, Leonville, Metairie, Monroe, New Orleans, Port Allen, Reserve, Shreveport and Fluker, Louisiana. There also were sites in Mobile, Alabama; Jackson and Metcalfe, Mississippi; and Dallas, Galveston and Houston, Texas.