Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Government Always Matters

Satellite Image of Hurricane Irma
Credits: NASA/NOAA/UWM-CIMSS, William Straka

Mayor Bob Buckhorn got it right when he told NBC's Willie Geist "This is when government matters," after Hurricane Irma passed through Tampa.

It matters when government is prepared to lead. We honor and fully appreciate our first responders whose mission is to serve and protect us in the wake of disasters, both natural and human caused. We want and fully expect our governments -- federal, state and local -- to execute a coordinated and effective disaster response of immediate rescue and relief followed by supportive recovery and reconstruction efforts. 

We hail the many heroes from government, the military, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and every-day citizens running full speed to aid those in distress. We are mobilized by the common call of our human decency to help our friends, neighbors and strangers in times of immediate need.

President Trump made the right call when he unequivocally ordered immediate national disaster declarations directing rescue and relief aid to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. His focus was on saving lives, not what it might cost. It's a call we should expect any president to make. Thankfully, it's a decision made all the more easy because the United States has a well-prepared, expertly trained team ready to mobilize at a moments notice. A team long in the making years before Trump's presidency. A team championed, created and funded by generations of forward thinking federal administrations, state and local governments, NGOs, and citizens committed to sustaining it year after year.

It's a team comprised of weather scientists from NOAA and NASA who could rationally predict with a high degree of certainty the course and magnitude of the storms as they approached; of a network of seasoned news media skilled in broadcasting events as they unfold, and disseminating the government's warnings alerting the public; of expert first responders ranging from FEMA to military units to local fire, police, and emergency medical services; of hospitals and NGOs fully prepared and ready to fulfill their missions of aid and relief; of faith-based organizations calling on their congregations to respond; and concerned citizens, like you and me, ready to answer the call to assist our neighbors in need. Our ability to respond is the value of time-tested responsible government leadership. It is born of commitment to collaboration and trust, and a willingness to partner.

Our natural rush to respond to disasters brings out the collective best in us to help each other survive and recover. It unifies us. Let's capitalize on this unifying spirit to mitigate the occurrence of self-inflicted disasters. Disasters caused by how we may choose to negotiate international diplomacy; to send our military into harms way; to address economic growth and security; to understand science; and to enforce the rights and fair treatment of the abused and vulnerable. Being passive observers won't do. We must rush to help our government focus on creating a common good that is meant for all of us. To avoid self-inflicted disasters our leaders must choose wisely, and choose our leaders wisely we must.

"This is when government matters." This is why government matters. Government always matters.

This post also was published in CT Viewpoints on September 21, 2017

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hartford Habitat Builds at Carter Project in Canada

Hartford Habitat Crew at JRCWP 2017
Lisa Chirichella, Don Shaw, Christina D'Amato, Tom Trumble

July 9-14, 2017, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

A week of building. A week of friendship. A week of faith. A week of changing lives. 

In celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, President and Mrs. Carter brought their 34th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project (JRCWP 2017) to several communities across Canada, with Edmonton and Winnipeg the two main host sites. The event highlighted Canada's welcoming embrace of diversity and inclusion. Of the project's 150 homes to be built, seventy-five are in Edmonton and nearby Fort Saskatchewan. Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity was there in body and spirit.

President Carter greeting volunteers, sponsors and Habitat homeowners
at the JRCWP 2017 opening ceremonies.

Lisa Chirichella, Christina D'Amato, Tom Trumble and I, representing Hartford Habitat, trekked to Edmonton to volunteer a "hand up" to our northern neighbors. Our assignment was House 21, the future home of the Yusuf Ahmed family (Yusuf, a Canadian resident originally from Ethiopia, and his wife and three children). For Tom and me it was our seventh international Carter project; for Lisa and Christina their first with the hope to volunteer for more.

Hartford Habitat crew Christina D'Amato, Tom Trumble,
Lisa Chirichella, and Don Shaw with future homeowner Yusuf Ahmed

In true Carter Project style, construction was a well orchestrated symphony of enthusiastic and welcoming voices, of pounding hammers, of buzzing saws, and of familiar construction commands -- "one, two, three, lift!" -- as walls, windows, and roofs were raised straight, plumb, and sturdy. Yusuf's commitment provided a resounding crescendo when he fulfilled his family's 500 hours of required sweat equity on our final work day. Congratulations were cheered all around!  

Homeowners and volunteers celebrated daily
with high-fives, hugs and handshakes. 

Every morning devotions and testimonials from the many grateful Canadian dignitaries, corporate and community sponsors, and Habitat leaders set us on our way to begin each day's construction after a hearty breakfast in the big-tent mess hall. But the truly emotional morning highlight was the daily ritual of high-fives, hugs and handshakes along with cheers of thanks and gratitude from Habitat homeowners-to-be. They greeted all of us -- more than 900 strong -- as we proceeded along the winding path to the work site. That alone was enough nourishment to last the whole workday!

As  volunteer builders we looked to our house leader Mike O'Brien, a Habitat pro from Calgary, for expert guidance. He masterfully expanded our technical skills. We built exterior and interior walls, installed insulated siding and windows, built stairs, and, believe it or not, "squared" the walls of the entire first floor (that's the value of a good Habitat supervisor!). Under Mike's leadership we, along with about ten other volunteers assigned to our house, accomplished a lot by week's end. Simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, we looked forward to accomplishing more back home.

Lisa and Christina installing
fire wall insulation on the house's sheathing.

Tom and Don building an interior wall.

As we departed Edmonton, we reflected on Habitat for Humanity's founding conviction "that every man, woman and child should have a simple, durable place to live in dignity and safety, and that decent shelter in decent communities should be a matter of conscience and action for all." 

The benefits of an affordable safe, secure, healthy home are measurable. It is well documented that good, solid affordable housing provides an opportunity for a family to thrive in an environment unburdened by the stress and insecurity of constantly searching for a stable place to call home. Children achieve greater success in school, parents focus more on succeeding in their careers, and families realize better health outcomes, just a few of the many benefits of a decent, affordable home. 

In the words of President Carter, "In order to create true, sweeping changes in providing decent housing, we must begin to talk about this human necessity as a basic human right. This is not something that families around the world can only wish to have, not something that only the luckiest can hope to realize, but something that everyone should have an opportunity to achieve.

When we understand the magnitude of housing needs and their different forms in communities worldwide, we will recognize that as more fortunate people we are morally obligated to act. Once we view the issue of housing in these appropriately urgent terms, we will begin to act in concert more effectively.”

We are committed to supporting Habitat for Humanity. It is why we build in Hartford. It is why we traveled to Edmonton. Please join us.

Note: Lisa Chirichella is Chair of Hartford Habitat's Board of Directors; Christina D'Amato is Hartford Habitat's Corporate Engagement Manager; and Tom Trumble and Don Shaw are Hartford Habitat Board Members Emeritus. 

Photos: Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International and Hartford Habitat JRCWP 2017 team.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor