Here is an email I just received from a college friend who's just returned from her own personal experience with today's New Orleans post Katrina: This woman is one of my most valued friends and her take would be legitimate and fair not only in this but also in all things. I post it here simply as a hands-on account to heighten public awareness. Dear all Friends: I spent a recent week with a group helping to do some clean-up in New Orleans, and wanted to share some impressions with all of you. I apologize for the long-winded email, but this was a life-changing trip... 1. People are still suffering - regardless of who you think is responsible for this tragedy, the sad fact is that 10 months after the levee breaches, not much has been done. Mile after mile after mile (I'm not kidding -- it's absolutely mind-boggling) of New Orleans neighborhood look like they've been bombed, and show no signs of life. Blue tarps are everywhere. Many commercial areas are still completely shut down. Nationally-based retail isn't too uncommon; almost no small businesses have reopened in areas hit by the flood. Abandoned cars still clog roads and parking lots. Inadequate medical facilities have reopened; almost no schools will reopen this fall. As you can imagine, the more affluent areas are in the best shape; poorer neighborhoods are virtually uninhabitable. 2. Business and Government entities have not stepped up - again, I don't want to point fingers, but public and private groups are fighting over funds. The local utility company is trying to waylay the limited community block grants to rebuild its infrastructure, yet its parent company recorded recor profits the last two quarters. Very few citizens have actually received any money to rebuild. It's very difficult for people to get solid information. Information from different entities conflicts and rules change constantly. Bureaucracy is growing faster than the mold...(I signed 4 different waivers during my visit), and many of the rules are nonsensical. For example, we were told to leave trash loose on the curb, rather than bag it, because they didn't want plastic bags in the landfill. But about 50% of the trash was plastic...recycling had been discontinued due to the emergency. 3. Non-profits are getting a lot done - committed individuals and NGOs seem to be doing a lot of effective work. They are less concerned with process and just digging in and doing clean-up, repairs, training, etc. I met so many inspiring individuals, and they were people just like you and me... 4. There's still fun to be had in New Orleans - New Orleans is still a party town, and parts of the city are gorgeous. Although it's not the city it once was, it still has lots to offer, and tourist dollars will do a lot of good! I had one of the best meals of my life at the Red Fish Grill in the French quarter, and enjoyed the beautiful aquarium, for example. And there are a LOT of very funny FEMA T-shirts... So please, please, please: Don't forget New Orleans - its citizens still need help! Write your senators, representatives and the President - please don't let them forget New Orleans either! Donate to a non-profit working in the area - most of have probably already given, but a few more dollars will help. Better yet, visit yourself -- there's nothing like seeing it first-hand. Thanks very much for your patience and my love to you all.