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Editor’s Introduction: Former NCUA Chairman turned consultant Dennis Dollar is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. This gives him a unique perspective on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the devastated Gulf Coast. He shares his thoughts in this special opinion piece. We say to Dennis, thanks for sharing, and thanks for the inspiration. [email protected] Usually, they come so gradually that it takes a lifetime to recognize the changes time has brought to the places you knew growing up. It’s hard to imagine every place you defined as home to change literally overnight.and change drastically. But that’s what’s happened a couple of weeks ago to my hometown and the good people who live there. Hurricane Katrina cut a wide swath across the geography and the lives of residents from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, Louisiana. If you plot the center point of those miles and miles of disaster – ground zero, if you will – you will find it near Gulfport, Mississippi. Although I left there only seven years ago to serve on the NCUA Board, I am a product of Gulfport.its gulf breezes, sandy beaches, warm humidity and even warmer hospitality helped shape me. I grew up there, played little league ball there, graduated high school, won my first political campaign, held public office, met and married a wonderful wife, bought our first home, proudly raised two great kids.well, you get the picture. No matter where I live, Gulfport will always be home. I return home every chance I get. Family and friends abound. But the physical Gulfport I knew is no more. Concrete slabs are all that’s left of homes I visited often. Four hundred year old oak trees under which Janie and I dated are now uprooted and bare. Debris is piled so high that neither my high school nor the church in which we were both baptized and married are even visible by car from the landmark barren roads I learned to drive upon.too fast a couple of times, but that’s a story for another day. There’s no worry about speeding now. Too many trees, power lines, cables and, well, destruction on every street. As involved in the community as Janie and I were, we knew the missing persons column in the local paper couldn’t possibly carry a list without a familiar name.or several. And that was certainly the case. We considered ourselves blessed that all our family was safe. Homes and possessions can be replaced. The credit union branch in front of which I stood to be sworn in as a member of the NCUA Board – my credit union – was destroyed. But then so were the homes of the judge who swore me in and the supportive senator who stood by my side through the nomination process. This storm did not discriminate. No home or business on the Mississippi Coast went unscathed. The only question is which “D” best describes your property category – damaged or destroyed. The emotional toll of such loss joins the personal toll to challenge the best in human nature. If one lacked hope and faith, the despair evident in so many faces I’ve known for a lifetime would be too much to bear. But that’s where the bright light in this story shines. Even though the Gulfport I knew physically is no more, the Gulfport I knew as home is still there. Home is always defined by the people more so than ever by the structure. The human nature of my hometown neighbors has indeed expressed itself at times in moments of frustration, disbelief, anxiety and grief. All very natural. But, yet, the spirit of the Coast that has always helped define home to me has been in evidence much more than the human despair. It’s called character. And the folks of the Coast have it. The spirit of reaching out to touch lives is alive, well and, if my friends in a storm ravaged region will pardon the watery expression, overflowing. From those who pulled neighbors to safety during the storm to those who are pulling neighbors even now into new clothes, a safe bed, a hot meal and – as Scripture mentions specifically as a sign of the simplicity of demonstrating mercy – a cup of cold water, the spirit of “people helping people” has been on daily display. Folks who themselves are hurting are sharing their homes, food and clothing with those around them likewise hurting. Again, it’s called character. Yes, the spirit of the Mississippi Coast may have been temporarily damaged by their initial awareness of the magnitude of the task before them, but it has certainly not been destroyed or even diminished. Rebuilding is beginning and its foundation is outreach to those who are hurting. As caring souls across the nation and around the world are pouring out their donations of much needed assistance to the impacted people in Katrina’s tracks, it is clear that the greatest outreach is coming from the residents themselves. Reaching out to meet a neighbor’s needs. Working together because of what they have been through together. That’s character. Without a doubt, there will indeed be a recovery on the Mississippi Coast and throughout the path of Katrina. That recovery will be impossible without the incredible support that is coming from the FEMAs, Red Crosses, Salvation Armies and NCUFs of the world. Compassion supporting character. But I submit that the most essential ingredient in the recovery will come from the hearts of a people who believe in each other, their community, and, most importantly for the overwhelming majority, a faith in One whose storm calming strength does not end when the storm does. As those in my home town awaken to each new day with challenges unimaginable only a few days ago, they do so with a renewed compassion for each other and commitment in their hearts to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. When Katrina changed their lives, she did not change their character. She magnified it. To those who have reached out to support these incredible folks who are so committed to building back that special place we call home, our heartfelt thanks is extended to you for reaching out to us. As a credit union true believer, I am so proud that few industries have reached out more than America’s credit unions to the impacted folks along the Coast. Never have we better demonstrated that “people helping people” is more than a slogan…it’s a way of life and a part of our character as a movement. Character supporting character. That’s America at its finest.

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