Today marked 3 months since Hurricane Michael slammed into Panama City. Our community paused to take a look at how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. Thirty percent of our school children have not returned to schools that are doubled up and sharing campuses. Many have relocated permanently. In an article titled, Utter Destruction, Pam Blair writes, “The hurricane left behind shattered lives, with loss of personal property, loss of housing options, loss of business access, loss of jobs and loss of normalcy. But it also left behind a determination to persevere and overcome.”
Overcoming adversity is a theme for Kathleen Koch. It was serendipity that I learned this author and award-winning journalist was speaking in Panama City in December. Though it had been nearly two months since Hurricane Michael hit, most of the city was still without internet. Traversing the debris-lined streets was difficult and far too few businesses had reopened. (This is still our reality today.) The only public meeting room available had open, exposed ceilings and no heat, having only received basic repairs since the storm.
But Kathleen came anyway. She is on a mission to bring hope to those recovering from disasters. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed her hometown on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 2005, she was part of the CNN news team who arrived immediately to report on the devastation. Subsequently, Kathleen wrote Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered. She is now a speaker who devotes her considerable energy and expertise to crisis leadership.
Kathleen’s message was simple, yet profound. For some reason, hearing from someone who has experienced what you are going through makes all the difference in the world. When she said, “you will rebuild and your city will be better” – I believed it for the first time. She has pictures to prove it. She challenged us to ask deep questions and seek answers. Her admonition to be a survivor, not a victim, was something I knew, but it was as if I needed to be whacked in the head to shake off the despondency that comes when you stare too long at pain and destruction.
Kathleen Koch is a model for resilience and compassion. She stands out among many people who have a heart to help. Kathleen, and people like her – are making all the difference for those in the Panhandle who are struggling.
This week, Kathleen helped me access information from an environmental scientist regarding the impact we are experiencing from the damage to 2.8 million acres of trees in the Panhandle. My husband and I live in the the Econfina Water Management District and unprecedented flooding is wreaking havoc among people who have already lost so much. It is a deeply personal lesson regarding the interconnectedness and balance of our ecosystem. This is undoubtedly a subject for a book – not a blog post. In the midst of it all, having Kathleen’s support is invaluable. It’s said, “we rise by lifting others”. I’m grateful for those who are walking alongside as we arise.