A doctor and a minister from New Orleans find solidarity in Massachusetts

Don Erwin, M.D., director of St. Thomas Clinic, New Orleans & Nell Bolton, minister for social renewal, Trinity Church, New Orleans, Jan. 1, 2007

Although we in New Orleans often worry about losing the national spotlight to the latest news story, we can rest assured that, at least in Eastern Massachusetts, we are not forgotten! Our community is fortunate to have the support and solidarity of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, which has made a long-term commitment to supporting hurricane recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi. Four members of the Diocese’s Task Force for Gulf Coast Partnerships visited New Orleans in February, and the task force has subsequently provided financial support to Trinity’s efforts to ensure a just recovery, as well as to the St. Thomas Health Clinic.

We were invited to Boston in late October to participate in its Diocesan Convention. We were given multiple opportunities to raise the profile of our recovery efforts and needs: making a short address in front of the full Convention, speaking at two luncheon workshops, and discussing New Orleans with parishioners at the Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill. In addition, task force members arranged fruitful meetings for Don with influential representatives of Boston’s highly respected health care community: Partners Health, Brigham & Women’s, Allied Capital, and various federally-qualified community health centers. Meanwhile, Nell visited the innovative Epiphany School—whose motto is “Never Give Up on a Child”—as well as the renowned Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, and shared community organizing experiences with representatives of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.

What struck us most on our trip was not only the Diocese’s commitment to working with us for the next three to five years, but also how informed this commitment is. Most people we spoke with are keenly aware of the issues we are facing in our recovery, and have kept abreast of new developments on the Gulf Coast. There is a sincere interest in mutual learning and in finding realistic ways to help.

We are looking forward to the blossoming of this partnership in the coming months and years. We believe that the relationships established during this visit will infuse our recovery efforts with additional resources—human, financial, technical—as well as help us to create avenues for on-the-ground involvement by our Massachusetts peers. For example, medical personnel serving with the Samaritans Now effort may be able to assist at the St. Thomas Clinic; lessons from Massachusetts’ health care reform initiative could be distilled and shared with local networks concerned about the overhaul of Louisiana’s health care system; and our efforts to sustain newfound enthusiasm for citizen engagement and community organizing could be strengthened by ongoing exchanges among programs in the two Dioceses. Most important, though, is the solidarity and ongoing encouragement offered by our peers in Massachusetts.