A Letter from Nancy: Huricane Katrina assistance

Dear close friends and family,

Some of you may already know this but I recently joined a group of Scientologist Volunteer Ministers and spent 5 days in Baton Rouge. It was both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Without the help of so many good people, we would never have been able to handle the thousands of lost, displaced and desperate people. Here is more information to consider:

  • This was by far the worst natural disaster in the U.S. in over 100 years so most of us have never seen anything like this in this lifetime... but something can be done about it and it is being done!
  • The International Disaster Response Team (aka "Volunteer Minsters") worked at Ground Zero during 9-11, assisting the rescue workers by giving vitamins, Dianetic Assists*(see reference below) to help get their bodies in better shape to keep working the long hours and assisting with mental stress due to the losses
  • Similar teams of hundreds of Volunteer Ministers went to Sri Lanka and other cities in the hard-hit area of the tusunami disaster last spring in Asia
  • The Volunteer Ministers have been a major force of "help" at every hurricane to hit Florida in the last three years
  • As of Sept. 1, the Volunteer Ministers were officially assigned the job of helping a government agency in the relocation of hundreds of people to new shelters. We have been given clearance to provide counseling and assistance to people through Scientology techniques
  • The Volunteer Ministers have been operating in the State of Louisiana and as of Sept. 8th was THE ONLY organization allowed to cross into New Orleans to assist the army, sheriff's department, SWAT Teams, National Guard and local fire departments
  • Through many phone calls and using all our contacts, the Volunteer Ministers provided 10,000 units of tetanus to make sure that the recovery teams were physically stable in order to go into the belly of the disaster without jeopardizing their own health. NO OTHER ORGANIZATION PROVIDED THIS INVALUABLE SERVICE.

After countless e-mails from friends across the country going into more and more detail of the need for help, I decided to just stop everything I was doing and GO! My assistant, Janelle, got on the internet and the only way we could arrive in Baton Rouge was via Houston. (No rental cars in the entire state of Louisiana!) So off we went to Houston. We picked up another Volunteer Minister, 16-year-old Chafee Graham- a free-spirited lad whose willingness to help others sets the bar for the rest of us (Plus, with all our "camping gear"--backpacks, food for 4-days consisting of protein bars, beef jerkey, trail mix, apples, bananas and peanut butter, we also lugged sleeping bags, change of underwear, flashlights, waterproof hiking boots and socks--having a buff 16-year-old was definitely helpful!)

Too excited to sleep, got up very early and caught our flight out on Sept. 3. We had a "pitstop" in Houston, just enough time to get the rental car and some food and head on our way to Lafayette, Louisiana. A dear friend of ours, Marie Pace, has a mission there and she was anxiously awaiting our arrival. We planned on dropping Chafee at the mission and then continue on our journey to Baton Rouge, but after the 4 hour drive to Lafayette, we decided not to drive into Baton Rouge in the middle of the night, so after getting briefed on all the “goings on”, we bunked down for the night and Janelle and I headed into Baton Rouge in the morning. (We planned on stopping by at the "back end" of our journey to visit the shelter in Lafayette.)

First stop: the Baton Rouge Mission of Scientology. When we arrived there were already hundreds of volunteers, scurrying here and there, getting signed in, filling out information forms and being handed a bright yellow t-shirt that identified us as a Volunteer Minister. One of the most amazing and admirable aspects to this particular group is that we really know how to organize. Everyone was assigned to a particular job, department or area. Those who are experts at organization ended up staying back at the mission in order to "run" the entire organization at this base. (Janelle is a real pro in this area and the Top Management snatched her up in a second to stay on base and put the organization there.) Others who are very good at personal interaction and delivering "Assists" (see below) were assigned to go to certain shelters to help in that area. It was being a part of a very productive scout troupe whose expertise is "assisting those in need, no matter what the problem." I was very proud to be a part of such a dedicated group. And if I every wondered who or what was going on, all I needed to do was look on the wall and there was posted a board that showed all the various areas and assignments. The phones were ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what they could do to help. It was really an amazing flurry of energy.

I was asked what I wanted to do and I thought it would be a good idea to just go on over to River Center (the convention center in Baton Rouge) and bring some joy to the kids, either by telling stories or talking to them like Bart, and that is exactly what I did. I went with some other volunteers and first took a look around the place to get my bearings.

I had never seen anything quite like it. There were thousands of people, on cots, on mats, in tents and all inside about 4 huge convention rooms. The main room had the most people. I couldn't tell who was in charge. It seemed very disorganized to me. Kids were running around without any control or order. People were crowded in lines, waiting for food and clothing. They had been there for several days and everyone looked tired and frustrated. I was given a "tour" of the facility and couldn't believe my eyes. In the loading dock area were table after table set up with all sorts of clothes, shoes, diapers, etc. on them. Red Cross volunteers were doing the best they could to sort things out, but at this point in time it was a bit hectic. Further down the aisle were the food and dry goods. It was like I was inside a Costco or Food Barn. Plenty of food and goods for everyone. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the overall strategy on how exactly to distribute the clothes and food in an orderly fashion. The volunteers looked overwhelmed and clearly could use some help.

There was another volunteer who would use a sound system to announce when meals were served and also to announce "Is there a Jefferson Wilkes here?" I got him to make an announcement that the voice of Bart Simpson would be speaking to kids age 10 on up in the lobby at 7:00. Our own volunteers branched out into the maelstrom of evacuees and by 7:00 I had a small gathering of about 100 kids ready for a show. For about an hour I did voices and told stories about working on The Simpsons. The kids laughed and had tons of questions and so did the parents who decided to "check me out." Meanwhile, the other Volunteer Ministers had set up a tent nearby and were delivering Assists to anyone who needed a little help. They were good listeners and just willing to listen to so many stories of what had happened. People kept coming back and introducing us to others. It was a long day that ended around midnight.

Up bright and early the next morning, we were back at the mission by 9:00. This day I went off with 4 other women to a shelter in Port Allen, not far from HQ. Prior to going we swung by a drugstore to see if they had any children's books. I thought it would be a good idea to just give the mom's a break and read to the kids. The coolest thing was that I couldn't help but notice the heads turn when I "and my posse" walked into the store. Wearing those t-shirts really identifies who you are and what you do and so many people came up to us and thanked us for what we are doing. It was amazing. Lots wondered what all we do and after we told them, they would just thank us over and over, especially because "my girls" were from Boston, Indiana, Florida, St. Louis and me from California. Very cool.

The drugstore didn't have any books, but they did have nail polish! I thought that while I was telling stories to the kids that the moms would probably love to get their nails done! So we bought 25 different shades of nail polish and remover, files, cotton swabs, etc and headed to the nearest Barnes and Noble to get the books.

With supplies in hand, we toured the shelter. This place was much more organized than River Center. There were fewer people, only about 450. No tents, plus they had air mattresses to make their sleeping conditions a little better. There was one kid, "Champ", about 15 years old, who had sprained his ankle. One of the VMs gave him a Touch Assist* and to show us that he was all better, he wanted to sprint from one end of the shelter to the other. And he did! This kid was so happy because his ankle didn't hurt anymore.

You would think that people in this condition would all be sitting around and crying and moaning for their losses, but what I found was different. Yes, there were people laying in bed and trying to get rest, but most people were just trying to find something to do. The boredom was most prevalent. The kids were really bored, so they would mostly just be running around and picking fights with each other or creating chaos, which then makes the shelter overall a more difficult place for parents and kids alike. They really needed something to occupy their minds. I went into the bathroom and there were 3 girls in there doing each other's hair. They were styling each other, it was adorable. I asked them if they wanted a manicure and man-oh-man did their eyes light up. I told them that we were setting up a station to do that and to bring your friends.

As the station was getting set up, I got ahold of a microphone and gathered a whole bunch of kids together and did more voices and sound effects and then ended up reading about 5 children's stories to the little kids. Later I had several parents and grandparents tell me that they really enjoyed hearing me tell the stories and couldn't believe that "Bart Simpson" was here! The rest of the day I ended up "doing Bart" for the kids. They loved it.

At one point in time, I came out of the bathroom and noticed a bank of computers lining the back wall. I walked over and there was a Volunteer Minister there helping a woman locate her husband. My timing was just right because not 5 minutes had passed when the woman started "Praising Jesus!" because her husband was on the other end of the phone!! He was in Houston. He was alive and well and praising Jesus too! It was really something to witness. This was the first time someone in that particular shelter had actually found a family member! I grabbed the microphone and made the announcement and the whole place broke into glorious cheers and applause. It was a spectacular moment to witness.

After telling the stories and doing about 20 manicures, I noticed a woman sitting on a cot with her 1-year-old baby. She was totally apathetic --very sad and hopeless. I went up to her and asked her how she was doing. She said, "All right." I asked her if she wanted to take a walk. I told her that I would watch her baby while she did that. She said, "No, I'm fine. This is life." I couldn't help but tell her, "This isn't life. This is crazy. Look at this room. You are living with about 500 other people all in the same space. This isn't normal. When was the last time you ate?" She told me that she hadn't eaten all day. (It was about 2:00 pm.) I told her that it was vital that she take care of herself. "You need to take the vitamins that are here. You need to eat and try to rest. Your baby needs you--here. I don't know where you are, but you are not HERE. Do you know what I mean?" She nodded yes. I went and got her some vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, B1, potassium and salt and some trail mix and a protein bar. She thanked me. I asked her if this was all a bit of a dream. She said yes, so I told her to take a walk and "Look at things....really LOOK at them. Look at the cars, the trees and the buildings, until they don't seem so dreamy." She agreed and off she went.

That little baby was so adorable. I held onto her and within 5 minutes she was asleep on my arm. After a while I had to shift sides and she clung to me so that I had to actually pry her from body to shift her to the other side. Sweet. Well, 2 1/2 hours later, the mom finally came back!! She looked and sounded like she had had about 12 hours sleep. It was amazing how just getting out of that environment and taking a walk helped her out, both mentally and spiritually. Amazing!

I went home that night with many, many new feelings. I felt so good that I was surrounded by now a team of 250 Volunteer Ministers (spread out among 11 shelters) and more and more were arriving on an hourly basis. I also had an incredible feeling of hope...

The next day, my "posse" and I took off for Irwinville, a shelter that had the reputation for housing the "unruly" and "gangsta" types. And it wasn't just the young men - the women were pretty hostile too. Jesse, the man "In-Charge" of the shelter, is a local who has earned his reputation of being an authority figure. He comes across like a drill sergeant, but his love and care for the kids is clear.

For example, he saw one kid named "Gerald" walking around with his jeans hangin' down to his knees, showing off his boxers for all to see. Jesse reprimanded him right then and there. "You pull up those pants. No one wears his pants over his backside like that! No one! That is disrespectful to women. You pull them up and keep them up. You may think that I am just being mean, but I want you to know that I care for you. But if you wear your pants like that when I come here tomorrow, you will be kicked out and not welcome to come back!" And he pretty much yelled this to everyone in the room. Then Jesse turned and started to leave. Well, Gerald flipped Jesse the "middle finger" and shuffled away without being "caught"--except by me. I didn't do anything at that time. I just made a mental note of "Gerald."

Anyway, trying to entertain that group was next to impossible. They weren't interested and the real little kids were hard to control. I started to read them books but couldn't hold the microphone and the book at the same time, so I called one of the trouble-makers over to help me. "What's your name?" I asked. He mumbled something, but I couldn't understand it. So I asked him again. And again, I couldn't understand it. So I just said, "Okay, I am gonna just call you 'Mike' cuz I need you to hold my mike. Okay, Mike?" He kinda looked at me like I was a little nuts, but regardless, he held the mike--for a whole hour!

After lunch, everyone was bored to tears. Some woman from the community arrived with a bagful of kickballs and hula hoops. So I yelled out, "Mike! Mike! Come here! I need your help!" It had been a while since he held the mike for me and had totally forgotten about his "new name" but I insisted anyway. He cracked a smile and came over. I told him that I wanted to get all the "little guys" together to play a game of kickball. "Go get your buddy, Gerald. I want you guys to be Team Captains." (You remember Gerald, right? The "finger-flippin'-boxer-shorten'-gangsta"? Well, he doesn't like to be called Gerald. He likes the name "Jelly", so Mike and Jelly became the Team Captains. They didn't want to play kickball. They wanted to play Dodgeball. But I told them they would probably kill anyone under 3’ 6" so..."We're playing kickball!!!"

There was a park with a baseball diamond right across the way. We marched about 30 kids ages 3-10 to the field and told Mike and Jelly to pick their teams. Mike went first:

"Okay, everyone line up." They did.
"Okay, now everyone smile." They did.
"Everyone with missing teeth is on my side!"

It was hilarious. One little kid ran up late and asked Mike what side he was to play on. Mike said to him, "Smile." He did. "Sorry. You have all your teeth. You’re on Jelly's team."

And that was the whole spirit of the game. It was hilarious. I really don't think Mike or Jelly ever had any chance to prove their values--ever. They were wonderful captains and played so well with the kids. They really got "into" the game. In fact, at one time a kid popped a high-fly and all the kids in the outfield scrambled to catch it, including Mike. Well, at 6'4" Mike towered over the little guys and very easily caught the ball. I immediately blew the whistle. "MIKE! GET OVER HERE!"
"Mike, listen. This is a game for the little guys. You can't go catchin' the ball. And if you do, you HAVE to drop it or fall over. The idea is to let the little guys win. If you catch all the balls, they won't want to play anymore."
"Got it!"

And we were back into the game.

Well, within about 5 minutes, another high ball was popped into the air and Godlovehim, Mike caught it again!

(Sound of whistle blowing) "MIKE! GET OVER HERE!"

Well, Mike knew exactly what I was going to say and he immediately said, "Don't say it! Don't say it! I know! I know! I am pulling myself out of the game and I am just gonna be the Captain. JELLY?! GET OVER HERE!" And he proceeded to tell Jelly that they should both not play and just stand on the side lines.

It was truly amazing seeing these guys having fun with these little kids. I was so impressed. After kickball we played relay races and they were equally entertaining. Mike took full-charge and got the kids divided into 2 groups based on height. The 2 littlest ones went first. They were to run about 50 feet, touch the bag with their feet and then run back to the start line. "1-2-3 GO!" And they were off! They didn't just run, they sprinted as fast as they could. The only thing is that they kept on running...past the bag and all away around the entire perimeter of the field! It was a total hoot!

The second set of kids ran the race and by the time they touched the bag and turned they were on top of each other and trying to push the other guy out of the way! We were all laughing hysterically because they weren't making any headway and were just "dancing" together. It was hilarious. The rest of the day was like that. We were out there for 3 hours and no one complained. There were no fights and everyone had a ball. It was truly one of the highlights of the trip.

By the time nightfall came, it was time to go. A couple girls wanted to know if we were going to be coming back tomorrow. They were so sad that we weren't, but we got our pictures taken with them. Also with Jelly and Mike. I am hoping that they will stay in touch.

The next morning we were off to Lafayette's shelter in nearby Abbeville, before embarking on the drive back to Houston. It is totally run by Scientologists and has established itself as an "Ideal Shelter" meaning that all the medical and emotional needs are being taken care of. When I arrived the kids were in school! Within another couple days, Marie Pace, the Volunteer Minister in charge of the shelter, and her team, completed what NO OTHER SHELTER IN THE ENTIRE STATE OF LOUISIANA HAD DONE: They were given 24/7 responsibility for over 350 evacuees. With all their knowledge, skill and interest in helping, the VMs made the evacuees comfortable in their shelters, handled their basic needs, gave them assists--thereby bringing relief from the trauma and upset of their ordeal, helped them to confront and deal with their new situations, brought one woman who "flat-lined" back from the brink and then assisted ALL 350 TO FIND HOMES AND WORK AND RELOCATE OUT OF THE SHELTER!!! Within a matter of days, the Mayor of Lafayette proclaimed the month of October as Scientology Month in acknowledgement of the valuable contributions and work that the Scientology Volunteer Ministers have done for Lafayette and their Parish! Thought you would like to know! :O)

And for just a little more information, here's one example of how determined Marie and her team work together to help the displaced persons in Abbeville/Lafayette. This was written by Marie herself:
… we had one last family to find a home for… two VM’s literally walked the streets looking for a home for this lady and her family… we were totally determined to [finish this job} and achieve our product here in Vermilion parish… as they walked down numerous streets they noticed one house that was all dark inside… they went door to door to find the owner and found her across the street… a 91 year old lady who is legally blind… they explained what was needed and wanted… negotiated the lease… gave her the deposit and got the resident over to the house to see it… then the problem became… no electricity … it’s now 6:30 PM Saturday night… I immediately got onto the phone to find the mayor to handle this… he wasn’t available… but in my trusty little phone list I had the cell phone for the mayor’s secretary… got her on the phone and told her what I needed for the electricity… only took her 1 hour to handle and she got the utility company out to hook up the electricity… whew!... but then… no water!.... called her back and it’s now 8 PM Saturday night…. Now I’m really asking a lot… within 30 minutes…. BAM! Water is on!... Now all I have to figure out is where to get trucks to move the family in… another 30 minutes… BAM! (starting to sound like Chef Emeril Legasses aren’t I? oh.. you may not know him… a famous New Orleans chef who always says… "BAM!")…. Now I have trucks moving her in… don’t know any other town in the US that could have pulled that off for us… the lady at the utility company was so sweet… she told me she got it done fast so I could go get some sleep tonight! (only in South Louisiana!)

We are now officially done with the shelters… every single person… with jobs and a new home or back with their family members… what a cycle…

That said and with the passage of time, Hurricane Rita has now "done her thing" and Abbeville is one of the cities it hit, hard. Needless to say, Marie and the VMs are back at it full-time.

BTW, if anyone wants to donate to VM expenses call Marie Pace at (337) 257-9430



Nancy proudly supports the following organizations in their efforts to help others:

Happy House

The Way to Happiness

Devonshire PALS

Citizens Commission
on Human Rights

Delphi Academy of Los Angeles

Volunteer Ministers

Make-A-Wish Foundation

Famous Fone Friends




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