Thursday, September 08, 2005

I was warmed by your story. I truly think the only was out of this current crisis is lifting one family out at a time. I hope the third tragedy in this story ( the well hidden poverty of our inner cities and widening class divide) can be remedied or at least now acknowledged..

Lauren and I rented six apartments and have filled them with families and children. The kids have started school and the one victim has found a job. Our colleagues and families have been on board with support.

I took care of a C6 quadraplegic last weekend who had been floated out of the apartment in a refrigerator. He was unconscious on the pavement for 36 hours prior to evacuation. Much to my surprise he awoke from his coma on Sunday. The hospitals here are filled with these patients and their stories.

Dr. Kim M.
Houston, Texas


All of us in Gander are thinking of you all and especially the people, the survivors of the Hurricane Katrina. We are far away but our hearts are torn by the scenes of devastation on the Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans. I have thought about you often and about your “pay-it-forward” campaign. When you were in Gander I posed the challenge to the Air France passengers to remember their experience in Gander and to find opportunities to ‘do unto others’. I don’t think any of us would have ever imagined that this opportunity would ever be presented to Americans and all of us on such a massive scale.

You and your countrymen in the Gulf States area have to face the monumental challenge of hosting the displaced people for MONTHS.
God bless you all as you find ways to rise and meet these challenges. We are doing what we can from this side of the border. Our Red Cross has dispatched teams to relieve American Red Cross volunteers who are exhausted from their 24/7 efforts. Today our Navy has 4 ships in transit with supplies and relief soldiers for the stricken area. Closer to the border we have several Canadian search and rescue helicopters replacing American helicopters who have been dispatched to the gulf. All over the country people are donating money to the relief effort. Several of our universities and colleges have opened their doors to students displaced by the closure of their own state facilities.

We hold you and all Americans in our prayers as we struggle to come to grips with this disaster.

I retired in February and I don’t have the access to the e-mail groups I once had but I would appreciate it if you could keep me posted on your 9/11 related activities.

Mac Moss

Minutes after signing in as a volunteer at Red Cross shelter at Palmer Events Center on Sunday in Austin, I met Lysle L., a man in his late 70s from the New Orleans area, as he was leaving the restroom.

Since his nametag said "GUEST" I asked him how he was doing. "No so well," he said. He then began to tell me his unbelievable story: he lived through the hell we all saw on TV at the New Orleans Convention Center last week.

Here is Lysle’s story:
• His wife was diagnosed with leukemia just days before Hurricane Katrina hit. They checked her into Mercy Hospital in New Orleans and began treatment. During the hurricane, the power went out, and Lysle fanned his wife, Eleanor, to keep her cool. No one was too worried about the storm. It seemed to pass quickly. But with the power out, no one was aware of the broken levy or the quickly rising flood waters.
• When the hospital was forced to evacuate their patients by Med-Evac helicopters, Lysle was told he couldn’t go with her, and that she was begin taken to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge.
• By now, the flood waters had risen so high that he and thousands of others were trapped with nowhere to go. By this point, the Superdome was closed, so he somehow made his way with his one suitcase to the New Orleans convention center. This was ground zero for desperate people who had no food or water, no restrooms. Tempers flared. Looting became rampant. Humanity and kindness were void.
• Overnight while Lysle slept, someone stole his suitcase. In his suitcase were all his clothes, all his medications and his cell phone. Everything was gone. Even his $3,000 Miracle Ear hearing aid, which he had taken out of his ear, and placed on a chair while he slept, some monster took that too. He says the police and national guard had surrounded the area, but were too afraid to come in and keep the peace. (He cried as he talked about his anger and disappointment in those he considered his neighbors, the people of New Orleans he was born and raised in.)
• Finally, on Saturday they brought in choppers to evacuate people at the convention center. They took him to the New Orleans airport, where he boarded a flight bound for Austin, Texas. (He didn’t know where it was going until he boarded the plane). Lysle managed to survive for four days without food, shelter or communication with his wife of 54 years.
• After arriving in Austin, he was greeted by hundreds of volunteers, including a medical team. He took a two-hour shower for the first time in five days. He had food, and a cot, blankets, new pants, new underwear, new socks, new white t-shirt and new shoes.
• Sunday, (the day we met): still no contact with his wife Eleanor, or any family. My partner, Kevin Jung and I, set out to fix that. From home, Kevin J. did two Web searches, 1) for the phone number of the hospital in Baton Rouge where his wife was supposedly sent, and 2) looking for any Austin relatives of Lysle. (Lysle said he thought his granddaughter lived here). Then I called my Tamala, and asked her to go buy a new cell phone for Lysle and bring it to the shelter. He would need one if we couldn’t immediately track down his relatives. Lysle had a few cell phone numbers of other relatives in New Orleans written on a wet piece of paper. From my cell phone, I tried in vain to reach them, but all phone lines in the area were still down.
• Very quickly, Kevin called me at the shelter with the Baton Rouge hospital’s phone number, and a lead on the Austin relative. Sitting with Lysle, I dialed the hospital from my cell phone. After several attempts, I learned Lysle’s wife was indeed at Our Lady of the Lake hospital. But she didn’t answer the phone. A few minutes later, I tried again, this time asking for the nurse’s station on that floor. Eureka! I reached a nurse who was very excited about hearing Eleanor’s husband was alive. I handed Lysle the phone and watched huge tears flow from his eyes, as he finally spoke with his Eleanor. She was doing well, and was done with her chemotherapy. He told her about the hell of his “incarceration” at the convention center.
• After the call, Lysle told me I’d never know how much I helped him. “I’m starting to feel like a human again,” he said. Just a few moments later, my cell phone rang again: a man was calling from Las Vegas, Nevada. He was Lysle’s nephew, and he said his family had been desperately seeking both Lysle and Eleanor’s whereabouts for days through the Red Cross. I handed my phone to Lysle again, and the two talked for a few minutes, and he started to cry again. It turns out Lysle’s two great nephews Ben and Mike lived in Austin, and they would come to Palmer Events Center to pick him up within 30 minutes.
• Before uniting Ben, Mike and Lyle, I arranged for the local medical staff to evaluate his condition, and gave him the prescriptions he desperately needed. “You saved my life,” Lysle told me, and thanked me again before I departed.

Just a few phone calls and web searches could hardly be compared to the hard work that many Coast Guard and National Guard and other rescuers have been doing in the last week throughout the Gulf Coast. I’m passing on this story to impress upon you just how easy it is for every single person to make a big difference in the lives of those impacted by this disaster. This crisis is nowhere near from being over.

After being stranded in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11, being treated by the most generous Canadians, I returned to Austin and kept repeating the same line, “Would we, as Americans, as Austinites, do the same for strangers in need?” I really worried that people had become too distant from their neighbors. I worried that TV made people too complacent, and that we would all rely on ‘someone else’ to handle such a crisis where thousands of people became unexpectedly homeless.

I must say I am so proud to see Austin, and all Americans respond, in such a beautiful way. There are lines today a mile long at Freescale with people donating food, clothing and other items to those who are stranded.

If you haven’t already contributed money to a Hurricane Katrina relief organization, please do so. And then, consider *what else* you can do. Can you donate school supplies for kids who must enroll in a strange, new school? Can you give someone a ride to get out of the shelter for a few hours? Can you open your home for several weeks to a complete stranger? Do you know of jobs that might be filled by the thousands of people who need them?

I am once again blessed by my experience of giving back to strangers. On Friday, our entire staff at EnviroMedia will continue our tradition of “Pay It Forward 9/11.” Each person will try hard to provide special needs or support to one of the 4,000 stranded individuals now in Austin. If you can’t make it to a shelter, keep the spirit of kindness to strangers alive. Do something good for three strangers this next weekend, and ask them to ‘pay it forward.’

The spirit of all those who lost their lives on 9/11, all those who helped volunteer during that crisis, as well as all those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, they appreciate it.

Kevin Tuerff
President & Principal
Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia
1717 W. Sixth St. Ste. 104
Austin, Texas 78703

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How It Started...

Kindhearted souls spread good cheer
Anyone could be a recipient of an act of kindness today
By Andrea Ball, Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 11, 2003

(AUSTIN)—Something special could happen to you today.

A stranger could buy you breakfast. A passer-by could hand you a bus pass. An anonymous admirer could send you a gift basket or a $100 gift certificate.

Don't scoff. For Kevin Tuerff and his 40 employees at EnviroMedia, Sept. 11 is a day for performing acts of kindness.

Today, as the country marks the second anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Tuerff and his staff will distribute more than $2,000 in anonymous gifts.

"I think the whole idea behind this is that, hopefully, it inspires other people to do something nice," said Tuerff, president of EnviroMedia, an advertising agency for environmentally friendly causes.

This is the second year the company's employees have hit the streets to surreptitiously commit acts of goodness. And they won't be alone. Other groups, inspired by EnviroMedia's idea, plan to spend the day spreading their own cheer.

Beth Atherton, director of Insure a Kid, which helps families get affordable health insurance, intends to surprise a dozen of her staff members with a free lunch.

"What I hope is that they will feel special and acknowledged for their generosity," she said.

Today's good deeds are inspired by the people of Gander, Newfoundland.

On Sept. 11, 2001—the day terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field—Tuerff was returning home from a vacation in France when his plane sharply veered off course.

Startled passengers listened as the pilot announced that their plane would not land in Newark, N.J., as planned. The United States had been attacked by terrorists, the pilot told them. Forbidden to enter American airspace, planes were ordered to land at the nearest airport.

Tuerff's flight, along with 37 others, landed at Gander International Airport.

"They wouldn't let us off the airplanes," Tuerff said. "We sat there for 24 hours."

Meanwhile, Canadian officials prepared to help their town's 7,500 unexpected guests, said Gander Mayor Claude Elliott.

Travelers exiting planes were greeted with sandwiches and fruit. Churches and schools were transformed into temporary shelters. Families invited strangers into their homes.

Over the next five days, the Salvation Army served 245,000 meals, Elliott said. Gander residents arrived at shelters with sandwiches, cookies and casseroles. They brought pillows, blankets and clothes.

The stranded passengers could not even walk to the local Wal-Mart without drivers stopping to offer them rides.

"We did the only thing we know how to do, which was to comfort them, console them and show them love," Elliott said.

Last year, Tuerff decided to honor Gander by dividing his staff into several teams of two, handing each team $100 and allowing them to spend several work hours doing something nice in the community.

One team bought breakfast for everyone at Juan in a Million on Cesar Chavez Street. One gave a $100 grocery gift certificate to a single mother laid off from one of her three waitress jobs.

Another team gave $100 to Florence Ponziano, the founder of Comfort House, which provides food, day care and emotional support to children in the Montopolis neighborhood.

Spend it on yourself, they told her.

She didn't. She spent it on the Comfort Home food bank, buying enough supplies to feed 50 seniors for a month, she said.

"It did so much for us," she said. ". . . I just figured angels gave me a gift."

This year, a New York-based nonprofit asked Americans to honor those killed in the terrorist attacks by volunteering in their communities each Sept. 11. The effort—called the National Day of Service—begins this year, and the group's goal is 30 million participants by 2010.

Public Strategies Inc., an Austin-based consulting firm, will participate today by cleaning and painting at Austin Sunshine Camp at Zilker Park.

Tuerff hopes such efforts continue to grow.

"Everybody's lives are so frantic and busy. Often it takes a jump-start to remind us about the importance of being kind to strangers," Tuerff said. "It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to make an impact."

Ideas for how to Pay It Forward (based on previous years):
* Adopt a Hurricane Katrina evacuee and find out what they need.
* Feed a stranger's parking meter.
* Buy breakfast or lunch for a family at a restaurant anonymously.
* Bake cookies and bring them to nurses at a hospital.
* Buy a savings bond for a child born on 9/11.
* Buy and donate gardening tools for a school.
* Organize a litter pick-up.
* Go ahead and give that dollar bill to the homeless person on the corner.
* Buy bus passes and distribute them to strangers.
* Buy someone's groceries for the person behind you in line.

What else could you do?