Did you know that Alconox’s Chief Operations Officer helped clean up the Gulf Coast following Katrina? Elliot Lebowitz believes that helping Katrina victims is part of his personal and professional responsibility.
When it comes to helping others facing disaster, many just shrug their shoulders and say "that’s too bad."
For Elliot Lebowitz, however, chief operating officer for well-known aqueous cleaner maker Alconox, Inc., providing relief for victims of hurricane Katrina meant more
than opening a corporate checkbook. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a disaster volunteer.
After seeing images of the devastation to areas of Louisiana where he had once lived, he signed on as a volunteer with the West Chester, PA chapter of the American Red Cross. Upon completing training, he was on the ground in Pass Christian and Gulfport, Mississippi on September 29, exactly one month after Katrina made landfall. For three weeks he served as a driver of a 30-foot truck, unloading supplies at displaced-person and volunteer shelters. "Everywhere I looked," says Lebowitz, "I thought a bomb had gone off. People looked shell-shocked." American flags were flying everywhere, "often the only mark that a home had once stood on the site," he adds.
Trees Displaced by Nature’s Power
As an advanced amateur photographer, Lebowitz recorded images of the environmental ruin, especially to the tree canopy along the once lush Gulf coast. His avocation of nature photography stems from a long-standing interest in the environment and how best to conserve it: "I have always been interested in the environment, especially after living in Texas as a young man on a small ranch."
His concern for the natural world has carried over into his career, and his company has supported the national conservation group American Forests since 1998.
According to that group, coastal forests do more than beautify the environs. Communities recovering from hurricane damage need help restoring the urban and rural forests that provide the life-giving benefits of clean air and water. Trees help control storm water, cool and clean the air, and help remove toxins from groundwater.
Carrying out his Red Cross volunteer duties, Lebowitz witnessed the damage to wetlands and woodlands stemming from Katrina firsthand. It made him realize how long it was going to take to rebuild the communities and their ecosystems: "Don’t forget that we are talking about hundreds of square miles of complete destruction to not only homes, but the entire green infrastructure of the area - trees for protective shade, bird habitats, and urban cover all stripped bare of leaves, uprooted or dead from the salt water surging onto the land."
The rebuilding process has already begun with funding from American Forests. Through its Katrina ReLeaf initiative, activities are being supported such as helping local groups plant new trees native to the Gulf region, flush salt from tree roots with fresh water, and cover exposed roots with soil and mulch.
Reclamation an Ongoing Effort
Lebowitz carried memories of his experience with him long after returning home from the Gulf coast. He was not alone. More than 200,000 people volunteered through the Red Cross and other charities to help with the relief effort. "I am very glad that I was able to be there,” Lebowitz adds, "to see the area firsthand and meet the people that were affected by Katrina."
According to American Forests’ website at americanforests.org, there are a number of activities companies can become involved with to advance the restoration and revitalization of areas hit by environmental catastrophe and deforestation. A Red Cross relief worker at a local chapter or contact the American Red Cross at their website at redcross.org for information on volunteer opportunities. "It was extraordinary to meet volunteers from all over this country as well as Canada and Bermuda," concludes Lebowitz. "The reclamation effort in this part of the country by volunteers was enormous by any standard, and I was proud to be a part of it."