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Robert Fogarty didn’t set out to become a New Orleans community activist.
He just knew New York wasn’t for him.
Fogarty moved to NYC after graduating from University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and communications in 2005. About a year later, he began searching for an exit strategy.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out for this place,’” Fogarty recalled. “I though, ‘If super for-profit New York isn’t working, then what’s different?”
He found his solution in Americorps, because unlike the Peace Corps, the uptake process was only a few weeks and he got to not only choose what region he wanted to go to domestically, he got to apply to specific jobs.
Fogarty was looking at opportunities in late 2006 and early 2007, just as New Orleans was recovering from the devastation of hurricane Katrina. That timing helped lead him to a one-year commitment in the mayor’s office doing public advocacy and coordinating volunteers.
And so it was that a native of the Pacific Northwest, not exactly hurricane territory, two years out of college became the city’s point person for volunteers when hurricane Gustav hit in 2008. He worked on the plan to get people without cars out of the city.
“I was over my head helping the city evacuate for Gustav,” Fogarty recalled. But “going through that was an invaluable experience.”
Invaluable in part because it led to the Evacuteer, an all-volunteer not-for-profit Fogarty founded. From their website:
Evacuteer.org recruits, trains, and manages evacuation volunteers (evacuteers) who assist with New Orleans’ public evacuation option called the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP). The CAEP activates when a mandatory evacuation is called in the city of New Orleans and is designed to move 25,000-30,000 New Orleanians without transportation. The City has successfully implemented the plan once, in advance of Hurricane Gustav (Sept. 2008), when 18,000 residents utilized the CAEP. Evacuteer.org is an organization created out of lessons learned from that experience. Through an existing agreement with the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP), the City of New Orleans has authorized evacuteer.org to manage all volunteers who work within the CAEP at 17 neighborhood pick-up points, at the Union Passenger Terminal (hereafter UPT) for evacuee processing, and at City Hall to assist with hotline operation.
To date, the organization has 27 non-profit, faith based and neighborhood based partner organizations and has over 700 “evacuteers” ready to assist should a mandatory evacuation be called.
Long term projections for the organization include a nationwide proof of concept in New Orleans to export to other American cities. The organization also develops academic, peer reviewed emergency preparedness research, new and social media emergency preparedness campaigns and its current flagship initiative is working with the City of New Orleans to commission public art to double as hurricane evacuation pick up point markers.
While important, an all-volunteer effort doesn’t pay the bills. So about a year ago, Fogarty founded Dear New Orleans, a photography business that donates 10 percent of its revenue to the Evacuteer, helping to demonstrate its financial viability to potential donors.
Dear New Orleans encourages easy expression: you write something on your hands with a marker, and Fogarty takes your picture. Sometimes the messages have a theme — the BP oil spill or the anniversary of Katrina, for example, or new year’s resolutions or “the moment I knew.” Other times it’s whatever the portrait subject wants to say.
“This really simple idea is really accessible to people,” Fogarty said. He’s done photos of Drew Brees, Susan Sarandon, Mos Def, Dr. John and James Carville, among many others.
Fogarty is just 27, and he says he used to fall back on youth as a crutch. Not any more. He realizes he’s growing something powerful, he’s part of the New Orleans entrepreneur community and providing an important service to the city.
“If you have value and provide something of value, your age doesn’t matter,” he said via cell phone, just before ducking into a networking event in his new hometown.
It all comes full circle this week — Robert Fogarty will be in New York March 2 and 3 with Dear New Orleans.
A social innovation conference in New Orleans the week of Jazz Fest called Second Line is underwriting a portion of the expenses to make photos only $10 per person.