NEW ORLEANS — With the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina four days from now, we thought it appropriate that this installment of our popular good-news series "Making A Difference" should come from devastated New Orleans.
The honoree this week is an ordinary stay-at-home mom who gave up her beloved game of tennis and went to extraordinary lengths to help the city she loves bounce back. And she's doing it with elbow grease. And a smile.
Becky Zaheri is the go-go-go type, sending her kids off to school with the enthusiasm of a football coach.
So it's no wonder that she'd have the energy to also tackle some of the 22 million tons of debris left over from Hurricane Katrina.
"I felt like we had to do something," Zaheri says. "I couldn't come back and go back to my old way of life."
An e-mail she sent to a few friends last fall turned into the "Katrina Krewe," cleaning up New Orleans piece by piece, shovel after shovel.
"It's a long road, but ultimately, we're going to get there, and we're going to be the old New Orleans that we were," Zaheri says.
Along the way, they've encountered inevitable surprises, including mice suddenly made homeless.
"We've had days where there were 13 huge rats," Zaheri says. "I know today we saw a few mice, but I mean 13 huge rats coming out of one pile."
Now, the Katrina Krewe numbers into the thousands — volunteers from coast to coast who've come here to help an overwhelmed town.
"The city would be in limbo without Zaheri," says New Orleans Sanitation Director Veronica White.
White says Zaheri and company have bagged up about 250,000 tons of trash, weeds and rubble.
"In the beginning she got a little bit discouraged, because she was like, 'Oh, Miss White, I cleaned up yesterday and it doesn't look like we even cleaned up!'" recalls White. "I said, 'Becky, please don't be discouraged.'"
When you're around this crew, you can't help but help. Even though it's hot, sweaty, smelly, dirty work, you'll hear no complaints here, because they say the end result makes it all worth it. On Saturday, the Krewe plans its final clean-up as it starts a litter-awareness program in schools.
"I didn't expect it to come to this, but wow, I’m glad that it did," Zaheri says.
And likely, no one will mind if she talks a little trash to the kids, because she'll keep it clean, just like her Katrina Krewe.
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