AFR Statement on COVID-19.

EPTA 2012

Posted: 8.14.12
Category: In The Community

As I sit down to write this my mind is filled with so many of the different emotions that I experienced last month during the Event Pros Take Action mission. For those of you that know me well, you know I’m expressive. After this trip though, I’ve been labeled the ‘crier’ of the group. Honestly, I don’t mind. This was a deeply poignant experience and one that touches me in ways I never thought possible. This is powerful stuff.

I’m sure you all remember the images of the ominous arrival of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 as it loomed on the horizon. I know I watched in horrified fascination as millions of people frantically tried to get out of its path. Perhaps burned even more vividly in my mind is the swath of destruction and human suffering the storm left in its wake. That nightmare is still a reality to thousands of people struggling to rebuild their homes and reclaim their lives seven years later. They are suffering. It is unconscionable and they need help.

Last July, AFR Event Furnishings joined with Event Pros Take Action Organization, and embarked on EPTA’s (known then as Operation Outreach) inaugural trip to help rebuild the lives of families that are still misplaced due to the devastation left behind from Hurricane Katrina. Working in conjunction with St. Bernard’s Project, AFR was part of an industry team that helped design and completely furnish homes for two very special families, in addition to providing over 10,000 household items to hundreds of others throughout the area. They were simple creature comforts that you and I take for granted - glasses, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, towels, and bedding. It was hard work, but the result equaled a life changing experience. It was just the beginning. This year, we went back. It was even more powerful.

On July 17th – 20th, Event Pros Take Action (EPTA embarked upon their second mission to New Orleans to continue the good work they started a year ago. Through the generosity, donations, and talents of special event, hospitality, and manufacturing professionals nationwide, EPTA was able to turn two more “houses” into warm, beautiful “homes”, and also improve the quality of life for an additional ten families still struggling to survive in the face of destruction left by Hurricane Katrina.

Partnering again this year with St. Bernards Project (SBP), an organization that rebuilds the bones of the home, our “Design Angels” – Richard Carbotti of Perfect Surroundings and Mark Wells of Hello Florida – worked closely with our two survivor families to create the home interior of their dreams. After learning what each of the families envisioned for their dream interiors, plans were drawn and the implementation and transformation began. For four days, approximately fifty event pros withstood sweltering heat, torrential rains and less than ideal conditions to deliver small kitchen appliances, housewares and soft goods to ten families throughout the 9th Ward; completely paint, finish and refurnish the two family homes - and ultimately restore the serenity to the lives of the Shelley Rose and Larry Carriere families. Their stories are touching. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Shelly Rose, and let me tell you, she is one amazing and inspiring woman! Let me share a piece of her last seven years with you.

Shelley is a courageous woman fueled by a heart of determination. Her Soniat Street family home was lovingly built by her grandfather and has been home to four generations of the Rose family. It’s always been home, but not since August 28, 2005.

When evacuating the city to get out of the path of Hurricane Katrina, Shelley and her family got lost in the disastrous evacuation traffic jams clogging highways across the state the day before Katrina hit. Fortunately, they found themselves in Broussard, not far from a friend of Shelley’s sister who lived in Lafayette. The friend picked the family up, and they weathered the storm together with eighteen other people. They were safe, but their beloved home on Soniat Street didn’t fair so well. The roof caved in and the back walls collapsed and their possessions were destroyed.

In July 2007, determined to return to their neighborhood, Shelley, Micah, and Jamisen moved back to Soniat Street to a house just across from their old home. They were the sole family to return to the neighborhood. They were able to repair much of the damage, but when a dishonest contractor stole most of her money, their dream all but came to a halt. To add to the disheartening turn of events, after they had put up a great deal of new drywall, they discovered the walls were infested with toxic mold. While Shelley works at an electric company, she does not earn enough to support her family and repair the family home. Yet, she did not give up hope.

Time marched on, and while living across the street from their ancestral home, the Rose family has grown. Shelley now has two granddaughters, Saniya, now almost three, and Ezri, almost a year old. The Rose family dreamed of the day when they could move back across the street…to move home…to continue their family legacy.

I’m happy to share with you, that last month, Shelley’s dream came true. They are home. Their house is finished complete with a playroom for her grandchildren. To say it was a heart filling moment to watch Shelly cut the tape and enter her “new” home – this time to stay for good – is an understatement. It was a powerfully life changing experience for me, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my days. In addition, Shelley and I have forged a great friendship, and I’m ever so thankful for the opportunity to have her in my life.

Shelley and her family were so thrilled to be back home that even though the electricity wasn’t being turned on for a week, they stayed there…preferring to “camp out” rather than spend another minute away from home after waiting seven years to get there.

I am so proud of my co-workers, our clients, partners, the Mermaids at Mosiac (the founders of Event Pros Take Action), Design Angels (Richard Carbotti and Mark Wells) and all of the volunteers that stepped up to the plate. It was inspiring to see so many people band together in a single goal. It has restored my faith in humanity. It has made me realize the power of community. It has exposed the compassion that far to often remains hidden as we hurry through our day-to-day lives. It has provided elegant proof that there is power in kindness and helping your fellow neighbor.

While our day jobs at AFR is to assist event professionals design the big celebrations of life – weddings, anniversaries and corporate milestones – it’s our personal joy to celebrate the moments between those events, which are even more important, and just as sweet. Celebrating with the Rose and Carriere families are just two examples of those important moments.

I would implore you to get involved in ETPA, to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself, and reach out a helping hand to those in need. The work is far from done, and we can’t stop here, but rather press on, one step, one family, and one action at a time. Together we are a powerful force that can change the world.

So perhaps now you can understand my tears. They are happy, sad, excited, inspired, tired, grateful tears of all the emotions that have defined the EPTA mission last week. What’s most interesting about the whole experience is that the Rose and Carriere families believe we changed their lives…but they don’t know just how MUCH they changed OURS.

AFR Event Furnishings is deeply involved with the special events industry’s newest charity EPTA (Event Pros Take Action) and we would encourage you to find out more about how you can be too. If you haven’t seen the video or want to know more about the work EPTA does, or get involved (hint), you can find more details at www.eventprostakeaction.com.