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Place of Residence: New Orleans, La.
Why she is a local hero: Banks is working with the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development to help rebuild her city.
The volunteers always pour in right after a tragedy. Whether it be Haiti or New Orleans, people respond when they see evidence of lives touched by destruction. But what happens when the news cameras leave and the victims of natural disaster are left to fend for themselves?
In New Orleans, Banks has worked diligently with the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development to coordinate volunteer efforts to make sure that doesn’t happen. From building homes and restoring gardens and playgrounds, thousands of volunteers continue to contribute to the effort to rebuild parts of New Orleans in a sustainable way.
So far the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development has helped more than 3,000 volunteers provide 41,000 hours of service for the people of the Lower Ninth Ward, which was hit hardest by Katrina and the overflowing levees that followed.
Banks knows the power of volunteers first-hand. Her home was badly damaged by the flooding when the levees burst. She was able to rebuild an energy efficient home and move her family out of a FEMA trailer thanks to the help of volunteers.
But the goal of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development is to rebuild homes in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. That also means exploring alternative forms of transportation other than the automobile. Understanding and advocating for environmental justice issues will help members of the community advocate for a healthier community. Wetland restoration will help limit the effects of future Hurricane Katrinas.
For her efforts, Bank was recently named the first recipient of the Green Up New Orleans & Deep South Center for Environmental Justice Local Hero Award.
“We are a resilient people,” Banks told ABC News. “And it’s like with any natural disaster — you don’t just run from it. But these are our homes, and the home doesn’t just make up houses — it’s the people in the community and the unity within the people that we have here.”