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With these three, Big Easy has promise

Published Nov. 21, 2006|Updated Jan. 9, 2007

Phyllis Eig, Carol Monty and Elaine Wides saw abandoned homes in New Orleans marked with a large X and a date to indicate inspectors had gone through the house to check for victims.

But they also saw bright, new colorful homes in a place called Musicians Village.

The three Pinellas County women saw the 9th Ward neighborhoods most affected by the catastrophe we simply call Katrina. They saw trailers and empty lots and stained lines on buildings where floodwaters had risen as high as 9 feet.

But they also saw Debra Cash join volunteers from Habitat for Humanity to build a place for her and her two cousins.

They saw problems, but they also saw promise.

"Some people say things aren't happening as fast as they should," Wides said. "I looked at it as, I can't believe how much they've accomplished."

Ready for tourists

I wrote about Eig, Monty and Wides after they returned from New Orleans in August, eager to become unofficial ambassadors for the city and tell the world that it's easy for tourists to go back to the Big Easy.

They had initially gone to gather authentic merchandise for a Mardi Gras fundraiser they are staging in February for the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children. They came back with beads, aprons, decorative masks and a message that the French Quarter was largely unscathed and that the hotel and store owners desperately needed folks to return.

"They need to get tourists in there," Monty said. "They have the willpower, and they're so eager to bring them back."

Yet their message wasn't whole because while they had enjoyed their stay in the quarter, they had not seen the areas where Katrina had wreaked the most havoc.

So they returned this month to get a firsthand look at the devastation, and I worried that visiting areas like the 9th Ward, Gentille and Lakeview might temper their enthusiasm.

If anything, however, they came back more inspired and more determined to help.

"New Orleans will be back, and in my opinion it will be back better than before," Eig said. "It might not be the same, but it'll be better."

A good idea

In fact, a brainstorming session they had after touring the beleaguered areas could end up paying dividends for PARC and New Orleans.

Corey Chambers, the marketing and sales director at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel, put the Pinellas trio in contact with officials from the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. With the bureau's help, the women hope to develop a discount card for New Orleans visitors.

Tampa Bay area residents would be able to obtain the card with a $5 donation to PARC, and if all goes well, the laminated card should be available at the beginning of the year.

What I like most about these three is that their efforts are rooted in a love for the city and a burgeoning fondness for each other. Truly helping New Orleans is a daunting task, but their passion has me believing that instead of just seeing promise in New Orleans, they may end up being a part of it.

That's all I'm saying.

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