Tuesday, August 9, 2022

In Southeastern Louisiana: 'Community Lighthouses' Powered by the sun and Volunteers

With so much "bad news" in the news, it is always good to hear of something good happening. Today's Religion News Service (RNS) newsletter has just such a story.

According to the RNS story, during the blackout caused by Hurricane Ida, enthusiastic church volunteer, Ida St. Cyr, lost something she treasures greatly -- her independence, afforded by the electric wheelchair she expertly maneuvers over bumpy city sidewalks.

RNS reports that after Ida, St. Cyr, who has multiple sclerosis, was housebound. She did her best to conserve power on her wheelchair, going only to the end of her block or sitting on her porch after the storm made landfall last August 29. It took 10 more days before all of the habitable homes in New Orleans had electricity again. With the lights out and nothing open in her Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans, St. Cyr states that life “was not fun.”

One year later, a project launching in southeast Louisiana aims to help people like St. Cyr who are especially vulnerable during extended power outages as the warming climate produces more extreme weather including bigger and wetter hurricanes. And what is that project?

“Community Lighthouses,” outfitted with roof solar panels and a battery pack to store energy [that] can serve as electricity hubs after a disaster, enabling neighbors to recharge batteries, power up phones or store temperature-sensitive medications.

These lighthouses are being sponsored by Together New Orleans, a non-partisan network of churches and groups that tries to fix community problems. According to organizer Broderick Bagert, these groups

felt “impotent and powerless” as the city struggled to deliver basics like collecting garbage in Ida’s aftermath. They realized that local governments couldn’t handle everything alone.

Bagert continued: “You can spend a lot of time saying… 'Why don’t they?,' but you start to realize the real question is ‘Why don’t we?’”

The RNS newsletter continues:

More than just energy hardware, each lighthouse needs a team of volunteers to study their areas, learn who has health problems and who needs medication refrigerated or depends on electric wheelchairs for mobility. While people with means can evacuate ahead of a hurricane, about one in four people live in poverty in New Orleans, and not everyone can afford to flee. Hurricanes are also forming more quickly due to climate change, making it more likely that people can find themselves stuck in a disaster zone.

Bagert believes that each lighthouse should be able to connect with all of its neighborhood’s vulnerable people within 24 hours of an outage.

The pilot phase anticipates 24 sites — 16 in New Orleans and eight elsewhere in Louisiana. Together New Orleans has thus far raised nearly $11 million of the anticipated $13.8 million cost with help from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the city, federal funding and other donations.

This sounds like a very worthwhile project. It will bring together people of different religious and political persuasions to fix community problems. I wish them well. We need more of this in today's America.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law  




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