New Orleans Hornets’ Future Looks Bright

Written By: Brendan Nienhaus

The New Orleans Hornets’ future looks bright, despite a year plagued by misfortune. Following a tumultuous year in which the New Orleans Hornets suffered from the loss of their two star players, being owned and operated by the NBA, and a lock-out-shortened season plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, the Hornets’ future is finally looking up. First, the Hornets and the State of Louisiana agreed to an extension to keep the team in the New Orleans Arena through 2024 in March. Then, New Orleans Saints’ Owner Tom Benson agreed to buy the team from the league in mid-April for a reported $338 Million. Then, fortune continued to smile on the Hornets when they were awarded the top pick in the June 28 NBA Draft during the NBA Draft Lottery on May 30. It seems fate was finally beginning to smile on the Hornets, and their beleaguered fan-base, after the turbulent past year.

The New Orleans Hornets’ misfortune began last year when the NBA bought the Hornets from previous owner George Shinn for fear that any of the interested buyers would try and relocate the team to another state. This created uncertainty for the franchise and helped convince their two star players, David West and Chris Paul, to leave the team. West left for the Indiana Pacers via free agency while Paul requested a trade. After an up-and-down course of events, this finally led to Paul landing with the Los Angeles Clippers. These events made it incredibly difficult for the Hornets to attract free agents to the city, so the team was forced to field a very inexperienced team.

Then came the lock-out shortened season where the Hornets were besieged by injuries and inconsistent play that led to the worst record in the Western Conference at 21-45. Guard Eric Gordon, obtained in the Paul trade from the Clippers, missed all but nine games with a knee injury and subsequent arthroscopic-knee-surgery. Both starting G Jarrett Jack and Forward/Center Jason Smith missed significant time with injuries to accompany a slew of missed games from other Hornets, including 39 missed games from C Emeka Okafor. It seemed the Hornets misfortune would never end.

Slowly but surely, however, the Hornets’ fortune finally started to take a change for the better. In December, the Hornets reached their sales goal of selling 10,000 season tickets. This seemed to increase the team’s marketability and soon potential buyers were becoming interested. This also helped motivate the state to work out a long term deal to ensure the Hornets remained in the area through 2024. Soon, Saints owner Tom Benson decided to step up and purchase the team to ensure that it remained in New Orleans.

Benson: “We really never stopped talking to them (the NBA). With out of state owners. . . . I called David (Stern, NBA commissioner) and said, ‘Look I’m the only guy you can count on who’s really going to stay here. Let’s work this thing out.’ “

Optimism began to spring anew for the Hornets’ fans, once again, and they would soon be rewarded with yet another fortuitous occurrence: winning the rights to the first overall pick in the June 28th NBA Draft, despite only having a 13.7% chance of doing so. The team is expected to take the consensus best player in the draft, Kentucky F Anthony Davis. This along with promising comments from G Eric Gordon about his willingness to return to New Orleans, has Hornets General Manager Dell Demps excited.

“This is the start of a new beginning. We’re hoping for the best. I think we have a good core right now, and we’re looking forward to building for the future and be good for a long time.”

Indeed, despite all of the injuries and inconsistencies the Hornets have faced during this past season, they did receive some promising play from their younger players like G Greivis Vasquez, F/C Gustavo Ayon, and F Al-Farouq Aminu, who was acquired in the Paul trade with the Clippers. Coupled with ample salary-cap room (even before an expected move of either Emeka Okafor’s or Trevor Ariza‘s expensive contracts), a new owner, a new longtime lease agreement with the state and two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Hornets’ future is looking bright again.

A Holiday Message from British Petroleum

oil coated bird after BP oil spill

Gulf Coast bird slicked in some of the more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled at the Macondo oil well

Written by: Holly Troupe

Nearly two years after an explosion on the British Petroleum (BP)-leased Deepwater Horizon platform killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is releasing an ad December 26th updating the nation on its efforts to restore the Gulf Coast to ecological working order. Like the previous ads which featured BP’s Head of External Relations Iris Cross, the tone is optimistic; the narrative focuses on the continuing cleanup efforts and economic recovery. But, with disparate assessments of the damage done to the ecosystem and fishing industries, are predictions that the Gulf will recover by 2012 valid?

Tourism seems to be back on track. All Gulf water fronts are now open to the public. Persistent advertising for holiday weekends and vacations, paid for in great part by BP funding, helped to drive rental occupancy rates up to nearly 100 percent during the months of June and July. As for the concentration of oil currently in the costal waters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that by August of 2010 a significant percentage had either dispersed or dissolved. Independent researchers from Texas A & M University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Santa Barbara concurred with these findings, adding that microbes had consumed much of the remaining methane and oil.

However, Dr. Samantha Joye, from the University of Georgia, found the oil the other scientists were missing: on the seafloor. The bacteria digesting the oil had to excrete it somewhere, and the heavier oil-saturated waste fell to the depths below. “In the places we sampled, it was devastating. Often you saw this oily mucus, blanketing everything,” Joye told the New York Times. “Typically, the seafloor is teeming with invertebrates sticking out — little animals with tubes, with shells, anything that filter-feeds. Well, the tubes were still there, but the animals were dead.”

There is evidence to suggest that even Gulf marine life that doesn’t dwell in highly contaminated areas is affected. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that killifish exposed to trace amounts of the oil pollutants exhibited signs of developmental problems that may adversely affect their ability to breed. Andrew Whitehead with Louisiana State University took tissue samples from killifish and found liver abnormalities that show evidence of reproductive impairment. Many Gulf organisms, including red-snapper, rely on killifish as a food supply. “Though the fish may be ‘safe to eat’ based on low chemical burdens in their tissues, that doesn’t mean that the fish are healthy or that the fish are capable of reproducing normally,” said Whitehead. “Early life-stages of many organisms are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of oil and because marsh contamination occurred during the spawning season of many important species.”

So, what about the fishing industries? Gulf coast shrimpers are reporting 80 percent lower yields than in previous years. According to Dean Blanchard, a New Orleans seafood processor, fishermen are pulling oil-slicked seafood out of the water regularly. Blanchard also told Fox8 News of a disquieting new phenomenon: shrimp with no eyes. “We’re seeing shrimp with no eyes that are still alive,” he said. Oyster crops diminished tremendously as well. In Mississippi, the BP spill reduced the crop to roughly 35 percent of its usual volume according to Mike Voisin, a New Orleans oyster processor. “This will be our lowest oyster year in a very long time, probably since the late ’80s,” he said. The lingering fear that Gulf seafood is a vessel of toxins has harmed the industry as well. In districts where crop volume is normal, sales have depreciated significantly. Avery Bates, vice president of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama wants to reassure the public that Alabama’s oyster harvest is healthy, but doubts linger. “I’ve never seen any storm hit us like BP did,” he said. “It got our reputation. People lost their clientele and closed. BP hurt our reputation so bad.”

Unlike a fire or an earthquake, where damages can be assessed largely according to logistic criteria, it is almost impossible to foresee the manifestation of ecological damages. Cleanup crews exposed to the crude and chemical dispersants are experiencing respiratory problems; marshlands that house local wildlife are dying; shrimp are swimming around with no eyes. The BP ad campaign, set to be released on television, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, will stress the $20 billion in funding BP has allotted for Gulf Coast economic and environmental redevelopment. Nevertheless, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told a Colorado Springs homeland security symposium, “We are continuing to see a deterioration of the marsh from the oil spill of April 20, 2010, and I still can’t tell you who is in charge of the cleanup.” Even with vigorous cleanup efforts, Dr. Samantha Joye is dubious of a 2012 recovery.

“There has been a lot of energy and effort put towards beating the drum of everything is wonderful, everything is going to be fine by 2012,” Joye says. “ It’s not OK down there. The system is not fine.”

Sweet Home New Orleans Works to Preserve Local Culture

You can help raise awareness for the work of Sweet Home New Orleans by adding the charity logo to your website.

Founded in 2006, Sweet Home New Orleans has worked on a variety of fronts to preserve the cultural and musical traditions of New Orleans through restoration of communities and the lives of individuals within communities whose presence is so vital to the city’s unique culture.

At the time Sweet Home New Orleans began its work, the cultural integrity of the city of New Orleans was severely threatened when hundreds of thousands of those who make up the city’s rich cultural base were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  Many of those displaced lacked the necessary resources to return to their homes and resume their lives.  As a result, a large number of communities were left in a fragmented state and were vulnerable to the threat of gentrification.

Sweet Home New Orleans has addressed the situation by stepping in to revitalize endangered communities—providing social services including financial assistance, case management and advocacy for more than 2,300 members of the local music community struggling against barriers to finding affordable housing and sustainably resuming their lives.  Sweet Home New Orleans provides its services through staff from within the communities it serves to target the needs of local musicians and artists, Mardi Gras Indians and members of Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans.

You can visit the official website of Sweet Home New Orleans to learn about volunteer opportunities or call 1.887.933.8466 to find out how you can help with a donation.  You can also help by getting the word out, which can be done simply by adding the Sweet Home New Orleans logo and adding their official link to your own website.

‘Make It Right’ Rebuilding Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans After Katrina

Make It Right Foundation works to build affordable and environmentally sustainable housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

In the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the nonprofit disaster recovery organization Make It Right is working to bring home residents of the community hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.  Prior to Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward was a neighborhood within the city of New Orleans rich in culture, civil rights history, and home to jazz musicians such as Fats Domino and Kermit Ruffins.  The Lower Ninth Ward—which included a 98.3 percent black demographic—was also one of the city’s poorest districts, with 36.4 percent of the population living below the poverty line; 8.5 percent greater than the overall average of Orleans Parish.

According to Make It Right, 4,000 homes were destroyed in the Lower Ninth Ward as a result of Katrina.  The death toll within the neighborhood accounted for half of all Katrina related deaths in the state of Louisiana as a consequence.  Because the infrastructure of the neighborhood was all but entirely destroyed and because most residents lacked the resources to return to their homes, the Lower Ninth Ward remained largely abandoned for several years following Katrina.  Until the emergence of large-scale rebuilding campaigns such as Make It Right, proposals of razing the remains of the neighborhood were seriously considered as an option within the civic sphere.

On December 3, 2007, Make It Right and organization founder Brad Pitt started a campaign to build 150 new affordable and environmentally sustainable houses, with the oversight of professional architects, in the Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward for residents who otherwise lacked the means to return.  In the years since, there have been several dozen new homes constructed in the neighborhood as well as hundreds repaired to living standards with the help of additional nonprofit efforts.  In addition to building homes, Make It Right helping to restore the community with new micro-farms, roads and native landscaping.

You can get involved in the efforts of Make It Right to restore the lives of residents and the community of the Lower Ninth Ward in the aftermath of Katrina with a tax-deductible cash donation through the Make It Right website, or simply text “SAINTS” to 25383 to make a donation of $10 applied to your wireless bill.

HandsOn New Orleans Involves Communities in Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort

HandsOn New Orleans volunteers prepare to enter a home damaged by Katrina for a restoration project.

HandsOn New Orleans Volunteers prepare to enter a home damaged by Katrina for a restoration project.

One of the most active nonprofit organizations in helping to revitalize the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been HandsOn New Orleans.  Begun in March of 2006, volunteers for HandsOn New Orleans have collectively pitched in more than 542,000 hours to a variety of projects.

HandsOn New Orleans takes an approach to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort which goes far beyond simply providing a particular service such as property restoration.  In addition to offering services such as property restoration and construction of new housing in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, HandsOn New Orleans works in active co-operation with community leaders to design projects specially designed to meet that particular communities’ needs with Community Driven Projects as well as Volunteer Leader Training for those who wish to become active in co-coordinating community projects.  Additionally, HandsOn New Orleans offers Youth-Friendly Projects through its Youth Engagement program to empower the youth within a community to take a positive role in their own community’s development and well-being.

There are a variety of ways by which you can become involved with HandsOn New Orleans in their effort to restore New Orleans communities in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.  In addition to a project calendar, the HandsOn Network website includes links to each of the programs—including a Volunteer Housing Program for those who wish to take part in an extended project and become a stronger part of a community of volunteers dedicated to common goals.  HandsOn New Orleans also accepts tax-deductible PayPal donations through their website or by mail, as well as donations of household and office items.

Project Fleur-de-lis Addresses Post-Katrina Mental Health Needs Among New Orleans Children

Project Fleur-de-lis has been one of the few nonprofit organizations in the New Orleans area that has provided mental health services to those suffering psychological trauma in the wake of Katrina.

Despite the general scarcity of resources in the city of New Orleans to address the mental health crisis following Hurricane Katrina, Project Fleur-de-lis has taken strong initiative in helping children and families affected by traumatic experiences develop ways to cope with the psychological scars that resulted from the disaster.

Project Fleur-de-lis seeks to take a proactive approach to address the severity of the mental health crisis in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina though intervention in the influential stages of childhood development among children suffering psychological trauma.  It has been well-documented that in the wake of Katrina, severe mental illness among survivors of the disaster, as well as those suffering from its after-effects in the city of New Orleans has reached a rate double that of the general population.

Project Fleur-de-lis is a nonprofit organization which utilizes a three-tier intervention system designed to identify individuals in need of mental health services after suffering psychological trauma incurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and to curb the damaging effects of the enduring symptoms on a child’s future academic and social development.  Project Fleur-de-lis works with more than 60 participating elementary schools in the area of New Orleans to provide in-school services to those in need of assistance.

Beginning with school-wide interventions, Project Fleur-de-lis attempts to identify and reach out to those in need of mental health services to address the psychological trauma of Hurricane Katrina and its after-effects through classroom intervention and in-school counseling.  For those requiring further assistance, Project Fleur-de-lis offers assessment and referral services from professional counselors to additional professional mental health services and care.  Project Fleur-de-lis additionally offers educational workshops for parents and teachers to help develop approaches to more effectively cope, as well as assistance to those in financial difficulty to provide a healthy environment for psychological healing. 

You can help support Project Fleur-de-lis in its efforts to provide mental health care for those suffering the psychological scars of Hurricane Katrina with a donation by telephone or contact the Project Fleur-de-lis Director of Development Stephen J. Engro at the Project Fleur-de-lis website.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans Addresses Homelessness After Hurricane Katrina

UNITY of Greater New Orleans is currently the only organization which has conducted regular statistical surveys of homes abandoned following Hurricane Katrina to gauge the levels of homelessness in the city.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans is currently the only organization which has conducted surveys of abandoned property following Hurricane Katrina in the city of New Orleans to gauge levels of homelessness in the city.

Among the most active nonprofit agencies in the disaster relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in the Greater New Orleans area is UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a consortium of 63 non-profit and government organizations founded in 1992 with the goal of providing housing and services to individuals in the city currently suffering homelessness.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans seeks to effectively address the most severe problem of homelessness in the nation; one of many lingering after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.  According to conservative estimates taken by UNITY four full years after Katrina in August of 2009, approximately 11,000 people, constituting nearly four percent of the city’s population, remain homeless; more than four times the national average of most major metropolitan areas and more than double the rate of the city with the next highest homelessness rate—Atlanta, at 1.4 percent.  UNITY also estimated a total of more than 6,000 squatters living in the city’s nearly 66,000 abandoned homes.  UNITY additionally found nine homeowners living in unrepaired, flood damaged homes which contained toxic hazards and were deemed unfit for habitation.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans is currently the only agency which is taking regular surveys of abandoned homes in the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  In addition to taking surveys of abandoned homes, providing the most accurate known estimates of homelessness in the city of New Orleans and working with policymakers to help provide sufficient, affordable housing to struggling and homeless families and citizens in the Greater New Orleans area, UNITY of Greater New Orleans has created UNITY HousingLink—a free online listing resource which provides guidance for potential renters to determine affordable housing budgets in helping to find affordable housing while simultaneously helping landlords and agencies to fill vacancies.

For private individuals who wish to become involved with UNITY of Greater New Orleans in their effort to address the problem of homelessness in the city and surrounding area following Hurricane Katrina, UNITY of Greater New Orleans accepts donations of household goods, toiletries and bedding supplies for their warehouse, where volunteer opportunities are available to help inventory and sort donated goods.  Volunteer opportunities are also available at the UNITY office to assist with data research and computer graphic and website design, or on-call for pick up and delivery of goods or with UNITY’s moving team.  You can also make a tax-deductible donation by telephone to support the nonprofit efforts of UNITY of Greater New Orleans to help provide housing and services to those suffering homelessness in the area.

Bridge House of New Orleans Addresses City’s Need for Rehabilitation Services

Bridge House of New Orleans provided free meals for homeless citizens in New Orleans on Christmas Day, 2009.

As with many institutions and organizations serving the public of New Orleans, Bridge House of New Orleans was faced with a critical situation in which none could afford to consider any failure to step up to meet the needs of the population in the wake of the devastation that followed Katrina.  A situation already plagued by a lack of healthcare access for those without the financial had become one of dire need due to a lack of available providers in the area following the flooding and displacement those who occupied homes, businesses and public service institutions.  The lack of such services in health care, particularly for that in areas such as mental health and substance abuse could hardly have come at a worse time, as many found such services absent in the greatest time of need.

Despite the difficulties of the situation following Katrina, Bridge House of New Orleans has remained a reliable resource to those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.  In the fall of 2006, Bridge House—which had previously offered treatment exclusively for men—merged with the only female-exclusive substance abuse rehabilitation center for women, Grace House, and effectively began its expansion of treatment services across gender lines. 

Bridge House of New Orleans not only works to assist those seeking treatment for addiction to simply kick the substance addiction itself, but continues to work with patients who have worked their way through the chemical addiction to build valuable life skills and job skills within a structured environment.  Helping those recovering from a lifestyle of addiction to build a healthy, structured routine not only helps patients regain a sense of self-worth, but has proven highly effective at a rate of 70 percent for those who complete the full program.

Bridge House of New Orleans accepts donations on their website through PayPal or through credit card, cash or check.  Bridge House of New Orleans also accepts donations of furniture, clothes and other usable household items to the Bridge House Thrift Stores, as well as tax-deductible used car donations.

It’s Mardi Gras Time Again

173rd Mardi Gras comes to an end

If I gave you three clues…bourbon, beads, and crowds, what would your guess be?  Mardi Gras, maybe?  Yep, it’s that time again in New Orleans.  I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced Mardi Gras, but it is like no other celebration anywhere.  It is a week-long excuse to eat, drink, and be merry (did I mention drink?)  There are hoards of people in the streets, some barely dressed, and others in outlandish costumes.  There are girls and boys hanging from balconies above your head, tossing strings of beads at you.  There is music playing in all directions, Jazz to be specific…and dancing, lots and lots of dancing.

Now, you might think I’m describing Wonderland, but actually the place we’re at is…Bourbon Street.   Mardi Gras has been a New Orleans tradition since the first red beans-n-rice, and Bourbon Street is the heart of the party.

This year’s celebration was met with colder than usual temperatures.  You might think this would keep some folks inside…think again.  New Orleans residents were on too much of a high to let a little bad weather spoil the fun.  They came out in droves, joined by party-goers from around the world.

The traditional bands marched and parades passed by, but nothing could take away from the excitement that the Saints were welcomed home with  The New Orleans Saints left the city, a football team, and returned…royalty.  Drew Breees and company couldn’t have orchestrated a bigger, more elaborate “welcome home” than this.

2010 marks the 173rd annual Mardi Gras celebration.  With all the turmoil Louisiana has experienced in recent years, it’s wonderful to see this tradition alive and thriving.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of participating in Mardi Gras, put it on your to-do list, it’s well worth it.  The only advise I can offer, on a personal note is…leave your purse at home.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity Makes Major Strides in Katrina Recovery Effort

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees helps install siding on a home for a Habitat for Humanity build.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees helps install siding on a home for a Habitat for Humanity build.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity has provided an invaluable service in the recovery effort and around the city of New Orleans following the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

With the support of 18,000 volunteers and more than 301,000 volunteer hours worked the organization has built 93 new homes in New Orleans and in the neighboring Parishes of Jefferson and St. Bernard in the past year alone.  Since the Katrina recovery effort began, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity has helped 278 families in the area become new homeowners.

A major recent success of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity since Hurricane Katrina has been the construction of Musicians Village in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.  The project reached its successful completion in September of 2009 with the construction of 72 new homes.  The founders of the Musicians Village project—Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis, Ann Marie Wilkins and Jim Pate—are scheduled to be honored on May 11, 2010 at the National Building Museum in Washington for their efforts.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity has received volunteer support from a number of other highly notable names; among them, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who additionally runs his own charity—the BreesDream foundation—to support cancer research and care and provide opportunities and education for disadvantaged youth.  New Orleans Saints players Chris Reis, Usama Young and Tim Duckworth have also recently worked in partnership with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity in the Katrina recovery effort.

The volunteer base of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity ranges widely from athletes and celebrities to students and ordinary individuals who wish to become involved and be a part of the effort to restore communities and improve the lives and opportunities of individuals within.  You can get involved in the Katrina recovery effort with a donation or sign up to volunteer for a build at New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity’s website, or sign up to volunteer at your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.