Robert Capriccioso

A Hurricane of Action

When Charles Modiano, 35, watched the images repeat over and over on his TV of three young black men looting stores in New Orleans, he says he felt jarred. The images just didn't match up with the realities of the young people he'd seen during his time in Houston, Texas, at the Astrodome where many were working around-the-clock on behalf of evacuees and their families.

And he felt a little angry.

He's quickly turned that anger into energy as he works to build a coalition to develop a nationwide "Hurricane YOUTH" non-profit organization. He about his goal of supporting and highlighting youth volunteer efforts in the aftermath of the disaster:

What role did youth volunteers play after Hurricane Katrina?

Well, I had been in Houston working with a foster youth organization when everything happened in New Orleans and Mississippi. In the aftermath of Katrina, there was a flow of individuals coming down to the Astrodome… What struck me was that young people were some of the first ones there. They were putting the cots down; they were helping to register evacuees and to get people organized. It was all happening amidst the chaos. This was a story that, to my knowledge, wasn't really being told.

Can you explain the idea behind "Hurricane YOUTH"?

It [will be a non-profit] to assist youth-led efforts in response to Katrina, and to get their stories told… We want to help organize informal efforts and make them more formal efforts…

Is "Hurricane YOUTH" meant to be an ongoing effort?

Since the devastation wrought on America by Katrina is of an incomparable scale with regards to previous disasters or wars on American soil since the Civil War, it's important that the mission stay solely focused on Katrina's aftermath, which will take years to recover from. However, the long-term leadership benefits that all involved youth will receive will most certainly last a lifetime. The long-term goal is that this once-in-a-lifetime youth leadership experience manifest itself in greater independent youth-led community service initiatives beyond Katrina.

What's the progress been so far?

One [project that we want to be part] of the initiative is called "Survivors with a Mission," which is made up of youth and young adults who grew up in the foster care system in Houston, Texas. The group's mission is to empower youth and young adults of today, and shape the leaders of tomorrow, by uniting communities, allies, and friends. Members plan to provide support services to youth in Houston high schools that are survivors of the tragic hurricane. They want to share some of their history of growing up in foster care and how they can empathize and relate to losing everything including family, friends, clothing, and all of what of what you see as stable, in a matter of hours.

Another is Project SAVE, which stands for Southeast Arkansas Volunteer Efforts. The rural area has received over 1,500 evacuees. What has been happening over there is that young people are collecting and distributing clothes, holding coin drives, helping with Internet job searches, providing peer tutoring for kids who missed weeks of school. There are youth ambassadors at each school to acclimate student evacuees.

Those are the first two sites that are organized [that we want to support] and there are many others that are in the embryonic stages.

Are you looking for funding to advance your idea?

Yes, I've put my youth consulting business on hold, and we're working hard to get this project off the ground. I'm hearing a buzz, but it hasn't happened formally yet. We're going to become a non-profit and pitch foundations soon…

Why is it important for you to support kids who are taking action?

Youth have always been at the forefront of every social change in America… It's happening again right now during this time of national crisis. The story is not being told. We want to help tell their story. We're hoping that highlighting images of youth taking the lead on helping with the aftermath of the hurricane may help inspire more people.