Sunday, October 02, 2005

On Monday, September 19th, I organized a Stanford Management Company fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity's Operation Home Delivery. The fundraiser was a lap-a-thon in which each employee at SMC pledged $$ for each lap swum in a 30-minute period.

With the help of the men’s water polo team at Stanford, we swam a collective 1,115 laps in just 30 minutes! That’s a lot of mileage…35 to be exact.

With an amount of generosity I have never witnessed before, we raised a total of $24,061.25 for Habitat. We have 65 employees here…that’s an average of over $370 per employee!

The people here at SMC were magnificent during the one-week fundraising process. People came up with creative challenges to raise even more money for Habitat, including a synchronized swimming performance, a business suit swim race, and a guy dressed in drag, wearing a snorkel and flippers, running around the pool.

It was a fantastic event in which every employee participated in some fashion, and we capped it off with New Orleans creole food, including jambalaya, red beans and rice and southern fried chicken. The catering company gave us a great deal on the food because since the event was for charity. We concluded with prizes for top SMC performers (all of which were donated by local businesses).

I am extremely proud of my colleagues here at SMC. Even though we are so far away from the devastation on the Gulf Coast, we know we can make a significant impact on people's lives there. In this instance, we raised enough money for Habitat to build an entire house for a family who lost everything in the hurricane.

As for me, I swam 12 laps during the event. That's 12 more than I've ever done! I made sure one of the lifeguards was close to my lane at all times...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back from Houston

I just got back from Houston the other day, and am suffering from an adrenaline hangover that started the minute I got off the plane in SF. It's incredible how far away I now feel after being with my family and experiencing their displacement for a few days.

Like I'm sure so many of you have been doing, I've been running on empty for the past week, trying to help out the relief efforts in any way possible. I have placed it at the top of my priorities, and have taken actions and made decisions that I never even thought of in the BK - Before Katrina. And I am as fortunate as anyone I know from New Orleans.

I am fortunate to have a family who I love so dearly, and that I don't think I know any of the 10,000 people who are decomposing in the toxic floodwaters that remain in my hometown.
I am so proud of my mother who never left the bedsides of her patients for six days after the storm, while the National Guard secured the hospital from looters as they went without AC or plumbing for days. Hope you had a good birthday Mom - now get back to work for 5 more days.

I am fortunate to have friends willing to help me under any circumstances and willing to sacrifice so much for people they hardly know. Cameron, Anne, Tito, Ribka, Zach...I can't describe in words how much you did for my family in Houston this weekend. I am so blessed to have great friends like you. You helped me make a difference in the lives of the people who are most important to me, and then you kept trying to give more and more. Anyone would be so lucky to be your friend, and I'm very glad to be in that number.

I am fortunate to have a place to live, an income, clothes to wear, pictures to treasure and food to eat. I know many of you in New Orleans have none of these things, and even more are missing one or two items from that list. While I have not been able to get in touch with some of you since the storm, it doesn't mean I have not tried. Shoot, I still can't call anyone in the 504 area code without hearing "All circuits are busy now; please try your call again later" - I feel like I could recognize that guy if I saw him on the street.

My efforts to bring awareness to this situation will continue and change as the conditions New Orleans change. Right now my focus is to further develop a few ideas that many raise funds for the rebuilding efforts. Despite what much of the country thinks of the leaders of our city and our state, it is the people of this city, the most familial and caring people in our country, who will demonstrate how the gravest of adversities can be overcome. The people in New Orleans have been described as "freakishly strong and passionate" and now it's time for them to show the rest of the country just what New Orleans is all about.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Two New Ideas

It's late, I haven't had a good night's sleep in a week, and I leave for Houston in four hours...but who am I to complain? I've worked alot harder before for causes I believed alot less in. I just came up with two ideas that could potentially raise money and awareness for the relief and recovery efforts.

1. The Fleur-de-lis car decal

I'm sure all of you have seen thousands of yellow ribbons on the backs of cars in the support of our troops overseas. Why don't we take that idea and extend it to the unmistakeable symbol of our great city (and my mother's favorite jewelry design)....the Fleur-de-lis. I don't know who was behind the original yellow ribbon effort, but it looks like is selling boatloads of them, and they even have a fundraising section on their website. Just another idea that I encourage someone to explore.

2. The Online Poker Scheme

Whether or not you agree with the pervasiveness of online gambling in our nation, it is a fact that online poker is one of the fastest-growing and profitable businesses on the web. I'm sure these websites' volumes are down since the disaster hit, since people are probably finding it harder to justify leisurely gambling. However, if we convinced the poker companies to start publicizing charity tournaments (where a percentage of the pot went to the relief efforts), they may be able to make up in volume what they would be giving to those in need. Three of the largest poker sites are Ultimatebet, Party Poker and PokerStars. I encourage someone to at least contact these companies about the idea.

Thank you.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Letter published today in the Palo Alto Weekly:

Dear Peninsula Residents,

I am a relatively new import to the Bay Area via New Orleans. I work for Stanford Management Company here in Menlo Park. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has been very upsetting for all of us. Personally, I have family and friends who are coping with the disaster first hand, and to many of them I am their only link to the outside world, as their communication lines to each other have disintegrated. In the same manner, I am the lone contact to New Orleans, a place I love dearly, for many people I work with and have gotten to know in the Bay Area. This is why I have taken on the responsibility of making people more aware of the crisis and encouraging people all over the country to support the relief efforts in creative ways.

While the easiest and fastest way to provide help is to donate to national agencies whose relief efforts are already in place, many people I have spoken with are interested in helping in more direct and focused ways. I would like to encourage the communities on the Peninsula to begin fundraising campaigns for specific communities in the hardest hit areas of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. An “adopt-a-community” program would facilitate local efforts to rebuild schools, homes and infrastructure in individual areas left destroyed by this catastrophe. Furthermore, I would like to work with you and those affected communities to develop means of following the progress of these communities and their residents on a close, personal and regular basis. I anticipate working with local officials throughout the Peninsula to coordinate and enhance this program, which is still in a conception stage.

To get a personal glimpse into the crisis in New Orleans and the recovery assistance effort I am undertaking, please access my weblog at Since I just entered the world of weblogging this week due to this disaster, I can attest that it is simple and easy to use. Feel free to contact me via email with ideas you may have, or add your thoughts to the blog itself. We are all in this together. Thank you for your time.

Keith Schneider

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What can I do? Where do we start?

As you all know, the Gulf Coast has been devastated by the winds, rain and flooding of Hurricane Katrina. What so many people are just beginning to understand is the crisis that is on the hands of the people in the New Orleans area. Even I underestimated the impact this storm would have on New Orleans – as the storm made landfall, I thought we had dodged another bullet. Monday night, as I tried to wrap my mind around what actually happened in a place I love so dearly, the more I think about it, the harder it is to comprehend.

It started with a hole being ripped in the roof of the Superdome, the first sight I saw as I opened my eyes at 6am Monday. During the course of the day, hundreds of thousands lost their homes to extensive flooding. 80% of the city is now underwater. People used hatchets, axes, and even shotguns to create holes in their ceilings in order to crawl out onto their roofs. Bodies were floating in the floodwater in certain areas. In St. Bernard, people are screaming for help, but cannot be located, and they’re trapped in their attics. In Metairie, structures are burning, and fire trucks cannot get to them. The Twin Span, a 5-mile section of I-10 connecting New Orleans to Slidell, has been destroyed in places. And we can’t yet tell if Slidell even exists anymore.

A 200-foot wide break in 17th Street Canal Levee is slowly flooding the entire city of New Orleans. Huge sand bags are being airlifted to try to stem the rush of water in that area. The expectations are that the water will not stop until it reaches lake level.

And now there's the looting and crime forcing National Guardsmen to divert their attention from saving lives. What a disgusting image to portray to the world in our darkest hour! I can vouch for 99% of the residents of New Orleans who are nothing like these criminals you are seeing on TV. Most of the New Orleanians I know got out of the city days ago. They are the ones who are displaced throughout the South, struggling to find ways to make ends meet, and uncertain if their homes or jobs will even exist when they are allowed to return home, which could be months from now. The rest of the country is starting to realize the extent of the damage and level of desperation in New Orleans. I am glad we are the focus of the nationwide media coverage, but I fear what may happen when America gets bored of this story. New Orleans needs us now, and it’s not going to be a quick recovery.

New Orleans, my hometown, is situated below sea level in a bowl created by the mouth of the River to its south and several large lakes to the north. The upswelling of these water bodies caused by winds and surge of Katrina has created a drainage pool covering hundreds of square miles in the city and surrounding areas. This water has nowhere to go, and will remain in the city indefinitely, with heat and humidity festering unsanitary conditions and disease for those who stayed behind as well as those venturing back to salvage whatever they have left.

The flood pumps were simply not strong enough to keep up with the brutality of this natural disaster. Some emergency management officials are reporting it may take months for the water to be drained out (against the force of gravity) and the drinking and bathing water to be restored to a state where it’s usable without being boiled first. Nevertheless, how can one boil water without power? The power infrastructure of the entire city needs to be rebuilt. Who knows how long this will take.

I would like to talk about the near and long term economic impacts of this catastrophe, but I feel like once I start, I will not be able to stop. How do you replace half a million jobs in an economy that has no infrastructure?

While I feel so far away and somewhat helpless, I have determined to do what I can to help the people of New Orleans in their time of need. I do not want to simply restore the city to the state it was in, rather I want to encourage its residents to build it to an even greater strength. May the anguish and loss they feel in their hearts today help to fuel the recovery and strengthen their resolve in the coming weeks. The human mind cannot fathom anything of this magnitude, but our collective human spirit can overcome even the unimaginable.

The people in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast have endured so much in the past few days, and they will continue to be tested as the extent of the damage is realized and the rebuilding process begins. I want to help in some way, and while I am no civil engineer or disaster relief coordinator, I know there are ways we can all help, regardless of our skills or how far away we may be. Whether it’s helping people to understand the severity of the situation, provoking a debate over what can be done, or encouraging people to donate to disaster relief funds, I’m going to do whatever I can.

I ask you to pay attention to what is going on in New Orleans over the next few weeks. If you have any idea that may help the situation for so many people there, I encourage you to share it with me on this weblog. Many of you are so brilliant and accomplished in your respective occupations, and with your help, we can spark the recovery efforts in ways the people there have not thought of. Urgent times like these call for creative solutions.

Finally, I encourage you to make whatever monetary donations to the recovery efforts you feel comfortable giving. I will post the information of such agencies to this website as it becomes available. I know, however, that funds from private citizens will not be enough to compensate the reconstruction that is necessary. We need to also solicit corporate and federal funds however we can.

If any of you have ideas of how we can effectively raise resources and direct those resources to the agencies who are best able to provide the kind of help that is needed, please let me know. Those of you in New Orleans itself may be able to provide this info to all of us on the outside.

Many experts are already calling this the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history, yet it may still get much worse. Please do not turn your back on this catastrophe. The people of New Orleans are depending on us now.

Thank you.