After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, people from around the country felt called to help rebuild communities in the Gulf Region. But few made the decision to stay. Below, Annette Foglino expands a profile she wrote for Glamour about Evelina Schmukler, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who moved to Pass Christian, Mississippi, and set up a newspaper that's helping locals rebuild their lives.
Right after Katrina, 29-year-old Evelina Schmukler went to Mississippi as a stringer for the Wall Street Journal thinking she was going to cover the devastation and leave soon afterwards. Instead, she decided to make Pass Christian her home, a town that had lost more than half of its 6,000 residents to the hurricane. She decided that instead of being a globe-trotting journalist—she had already covered finance trials in London and Cairo—she would help bring back this small town on Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
"I started out raising $1,500 for sleeping bags, and I had some money left over and I wanted to put it to good use," she says. She asked people in the community what was most needed. The answer: information. With no electricity and the city hall, police station and fire station destroyed, many of the returning residents didn't know where to go for
help. Schmukler took $500 left over from the sleeping bag kitty and used her journalism skills to distribute 600 copies of a newsletter with pertinent phone numbers and other information. The first issue was printed up at her mother's home in Atlanta.
"Having the newspaper made the community feel like a community again."
By May of last year, she had settled in Pass Christian and now with the help of local advertisers and an intern, she distributes 3,000 copies of a weekly 32-page newspaper dedicated to the mission of rebuilding. With no local newspaper, the returning residents are grateful for this recovery information as well as the disaster preparation and evacuation plans it includes.
"Having the newspaper made the community feel like a community again," says Schmukler. "It's not going to be the same town, but it's going to be a town again." What people in the community most appreciate, she says, is the level of detail that the daily Gulf Coast newspaper just can't provide. "We give blow by blow descriptions of all the news that comes out of the city meetings, such as the best way to rebuild, the new
regulations and grant opportunities. The list goes on."
Schmukler says that as a journalist she wanted to make a difference, but this is the first time she is seeing first-hand the impact she is having. "I've never done anything where people say 'thank you so much for doing this.'"
Copyright © 2007 by Annette Foglino. Reprinted with permission.