Moving Forward Gulf Coast
After the storm, many Gulf Coast natives returned to home to help struggling friends and neighbors. In this expanded version of a profile she wrote for Glamour, Annette Foglino speaks with Colette Pichon Battle, a Washington lawyer who returned to Slidell, Louisiana, and founded Moving Forward Gulf Coast to help people find resources and rebuild their lives.
Image: Post-Katrina Pioneers
Annette Foglino

Collette Pichon Battle, 32, was a corporate attorney in Washington D.C. when Hurricane Katrina flooded her hometown of Bayou Vincent, a French Creole community in Slidell, Louisiana. "My whole life—all my plans—changed in an instant," she says. She immediately flew back to her family's home, which had been totally destroyed, to distribute food and supplies as well as help locate the missing. "These were people who put me through law school with community fish-dinner fundraisers, a tradition where I'm from," she says.

It soon became clear that many of the elderly and those who did not speak English as their first language needed help with the legal paperwork involved in getting disaster aid. Operating out of her family's FEMA trailer, Pichon Battle founded Moving Forward Gulf Coast to help members of the community file for government benefits and attain necessary legal documents, such as homeowner titles. She soon paired up with filmmaker Trupania Bonner to produce a series of DVDs with information on affordable housing; the process of filing appeals to FEMA and how to spot contractor fraud.

"We have a large population of elderly people who have worked all their lives for their homes and they are paying contractors to repair them, but because they're living somewhere else, it's hard for them to monitor the job," says Pichon Battle. "Someone needs to fight for them." The DVDs have been distributed to churches and community groups in cities where evacuees have moved, such as Dallas, Atlanta and Memphis. Moving Forward Gulf Coast now operates out of a storefront office in Bayou Vincent and continues to help members of the community receive aid. Adds Pichon Battle: "Our goal is to empower folks to stand up for themselves."

Copyright © 2007 by Annette Foglino. Reprinted with permission.