Later this summer will mark the 10th anniversary since Hurricane Katrina hit and devastated so many areas in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The loss of life was devastating and the loss of property was catastrophic. To this day, the recovery and rebuilding is ongoing. Seeing the footage, hearing the reports and listening to people’s stories in late summer 2005 and the months and years that followed is something I, like many others, will never forget. So many of us donated money, time, supplies, materials, whatever we could to help out in a great time of need. Two years later, my team and I realized we could help more and, since the idea of ‘giving back’ has always been part of my business philosophy, I seized the opportunity.
A daily part of office life with Chris Madden Inc is a morning meeting around a Chris Madden designed dining room table where we could all ‘check in’ and discuss projects or ideas. One morning, I asked for suggestions on how to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the company. I didn’t want to do a grand party, I explained, but something outside the box. Our design assistant at the time told us about the town of Pass Christian, Mississippi, where her parents lived, and how hard it had been hit by Hurricane Katrina, and how much help they still needed rebuilding. I knew that our small, but dedicated, team couldn’t build a house – but there was something we could do. We had a warehouse in Vermont filled to the brim with samples from my collections with Bassett, Mohawk and JCPenney. I realized it was time to put those samples to use – and so “Chris Madden’s Project Katrina” was born.
After the storm, volunteer groups, such as the Mennonites, went into towns like Pass Christian and rebuilt houses. An incredible service, but the houses they built were empty. With the help of my team, I wanted to create homes for victims of the storm, filled with comfort, giving them a sense of hope. We couldn’t replace what they had lost, but we could work to turn their houses from empty shells to havens with the possibility of a fresh start. We were able to completely furnish 4 homes in Pass Christian – rugs, sofas, table, chairs, lamps, beds, even down to decorative pillows and soap dispensers. We continued Project Katrina with an amazing international group called Architecture for Humanity, and were able to help furnish homes in ‘Musicians Village’ in New Orleans.
Being and working in Pass Christian and New Orleans was such an emotional experience for all of us that were involved. We worked closely with victims of the storm, saw the devastation that had hit, and were rewarded when we saw these families look at their newly decorated homes. To see more about our Project Katrina initiative, watch the brief documentary at the end of this post, which was edited by my son, Patrick Madden, and with music by the incredible artist Armand St Martin, whose song ‘Katrina Blues’ was inspired by the aftermath of the Hurricane. The video focuses on one of the wonderful people we worked with, Miss Thelma, and her story.
Giving back has always been a part of my life, both personal and business, and I encourage all of you to give back however you can, when you can. It can be something simple – a small donation to a favorite charity, or a family activity – spending a holiday volunteering at a soup kitchen, or part of a clean-up project – going through your clothes and household goods and donating what you no longer need (as Americans we are often a consumptive society). Whatever giving back means to you, take some time this summer and find a way to make a difference. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.