Like others in her class, she was at a loss what her project would be. Two weeks into the course she realized that not only had she not chosen a project, but she was now getting behind her classmates.
Shortly thereafter, Martinez had a dream. “I had a dream in which I saw beautiful wood furniture loaded onto a tractor trailer bound for New Orleans,” she recalls. The dream was particularly vivid and she remembers that “upon waking, my heart said I needed to pursue this, even though my head was telling me that the crisis of Hurrican Katrina was over and furniture certainly wasn’t needed.”
As part of the classwork, and for her own accountability, Martinez began a log of phone calls she was making in order to connect with people in the New Orleans area who could serve as a conduit for material aid. Over the course of the next month she made over 300 calls before she was able to reach someone in a reputable relief organization that was willing to partner with her, and could vouch that without a doubt, there was a dire need for this sort of help. Had it not been for the reminder from her SELP teacher that she should be “willing to fail one hundred times” she might never have perservered in these circumstances. Catherine found that even though the hurricane had passed many months earlier, people in the Gulf Coast were sleeping on wood pallets and camping out on the ground where their homes once stood. People were desperate to know that they had not been forgotten by the rest of the country. People were unable to find work or receive financial assistance without a permanent residence.
And so, Martinez really began to take action: “I started by gathering a few friends to meet weekly at the local Wegmans. Even though these were my closest friends who gave no commitment to long term involvement, I knew that the legitimacy of actually having a group meeting was the next step.” Soon she came to realize how many people were actually wiling and able to contribute as long as they knew their contributions would go to the right place; directly to the people in New Orleans. An article in the city paper, the Ithaca Journal, came within the last two weeks before the tractor trailer was to depart.
Within days contributions of furniture and monetary donations began to pour in. So many such that by December 16, 2006 another 25 foot truck was needed in order to take all that had been doanted! People in Ithaca wanted, felt propelled, to contribute–To drive the truck, to contribute warehouse space for goods in Louisiana to participate on the work team, and much more.
Of all the people that Catherine and the others on her team met in New Orleans, none touched them more than Pastor Bruce Davenport, otherwise known affectionately as “PB”. PB heads up a small church squarely in the projects of the 7th Ward, and is the spiritual and emotional support of his community, both before, during, and after the
devastating flood of Hurricane Katrina. PB tirelessly preaches, prays, and uplifts all whom he touches and when the team met with him it was clear that their effort was not over. Catherine knew at once that more needed to be done, and could be done, by the relatively wealthy community she lives in. She teamed with Mike Ellis, who had encouraged her to meet Pastor Bruce (whom he had met from an earlier trip he had made to the Gulf Coast) and it was with Mike that she met a kindred spirit. In that long distanced call from Catherine in New Orleans to Mike in Ithaca, the plan to continue and grow with Love Knows No Bounds was hatched. Now there would be a particular emphasis on partnering with Pastor Davenport and the 7th ward and creating a lasting relationship with his church community. It was only weeks later over another phone call that Martinez discovered that Ellis had himself graduated from SELP ten years earlier. It was just another magical coincidence in the fruition of the project.
Since that first trip, Love Knows No Bounds took eight more tractor trailer truckloads of furniture and housewares to New Orleans. The December 2007 truckload was the largest delivery yet. There have also been three student trips (with a fourth to happen shortly), where teams of Ithaca high school students spend time doing rebuilding work in New Orleans. In fact, there have been numerous work trips coordinated through Love Knows No Bounds as people look for a way to contribute. One trip currently being arranged has students from SUNY Binghamton who are studying social work going to New Orleans and assisting social workers there. The social workers get badly needed help, the students get experience.
The entire city of Ithaca has pitched in, with countless businesses and inviduals contributing goods and money. Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson has been instrumental in building a sister city alliance between her city and 7th ward of New Orleans.
“The city admires and supports the work of Love Knows No Bounds,” Mayor Peterson said in December, “and the City of New Orleans considers our relationship a unique and groundbreaking one that we hope will serve as a model for other cities.
As Love Knows No Bounds has grown, they have realized that more than just goods and services are needed to make a difference. The organization has worked with groups such as the United Way and Catholic Charities to help locals cut through bureaucratic red tape and get the help they need. Ellis talks about the group’s work to help locals gain access to ‘Road Home Funds’, a federal program through which people not covered by insurance have the money to return to New Orleans and rebuild. The application process for Road Home funds is long and applications aren’t always responded to in a timely manner, so Love Knows No Bounds is working with a lawyer who is doing pro bono work to help people expedite this process.
As for why Ellis is so enthusiastic about their work and what keeps him involved, he says “Love. Plain and simple. In December 2005, we met Pastor Davenport, and he’s my ideal of what a social worker is. He keeps dealing with adversity and rising above it. He’s a profound role model for me. I have a mission to help him, his church and the community at large.”