To Sir [Paul], with love.
One of the things I most love about our community is how so many people come together to rally for a good cause. Today, my Leadership Northshore colleagues gathered in Olde Towne Slidell for the Pumpkin Fest, an event they founded three years ago. That Leadership team includes East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity President and CEO Debbie Crouch.
The first thing Debbie said to me when I saw her at the festival was, “I still believe.”
She was referring, of course, to our continued quest for Sir Paul McCartney’s autograph on the Beatles-themed piano that Lori Gomez created for Habitat’s upcoming Home Is Where the Art Is auction, for which the auction proceeds are dedicated to the organization’s Veterans Build.
“I have our truck ready to go, right over there,” she said, pointing to Habitat’s cargo truck. “And the team’s on standby [to bring the piano to the New Orleans Smoothie King Center, where Sir Paul is performing tonight.] And I have a change of clothes for when we get the approval. I’m ready to go.”
“I still believe.”
For any long term Louisiana resident, and even for many transplants, believing is at the core of our very being. We believed in the New Orleans Saints when the rest of the nation mocked them, and though it took a while, they finally made it to the Super Bowl. And won. And grown men wept. And the city, even the nation, celebrated that victory and all that it represented. It was so much more than a game. It was a celebration of rebirth.
We believed that we would come back from Hurricane Katrina, even though 40 percent of our city, Slidell, was underwater, and 95% of our residents suffered damage to their homes, some completely gone.
And we believed when just days after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, we came together to orchestrate The Train of Hope, delivering over $250,000 in relief donations via Amtrak the week after the storm.
When St. Tammany Convention and Tourist Commission’s President and CEO Donna O’Daniels and I first conceived the Train of Hope idea, many people were cynical. The media was cautious. Many local businesses, when asked if they would serve as drop off points for collections, politely declined. After all, we didn’t even have a contact at Amtrak. But still, we believed.
Then something magical happened.
Within 48 hours, we got the approval from Amtrak, orchestrated logistics with officials in New Jersey, and the doubters became believers. A team of volunteers came together and made the impossible possible. That mission garnered national media attention and accolades, celebrating the community that had triumphed over Katrina and was paying it forward.
A month later, we returned with Train of Hope for the Holidays, with an additional $200,000 in goods, including toys for the children of the storm, collected from all 50 states as a show of support. They would have their holidays.
So to those who continue to believe that the quest for Sir Paul’s autograph can’t be done, I say only this: if we can put together a train with a quarter of a million dollars in relief supplies and deliver it to the eastern coast the week after the storm, getting an autograph on a piano should be a cakewalk by comparison.
Yes, the concert is tonight. And yes, it’s a daunting task. But the staff of Habitat, the artist and the experts who have put countless hours into restoring and painting this piano, to the nearly 2,000 people who have followed this blog and the hundreds who have shared our quest via social media believe, too.
And to those who have asked if I will be embarrassed if we fail, given the very public efforts to make this happen, the answer is a definitive “NO.”
The only way we could have failed in this mission was if we failed to try.
To the many who have called, emailed and texted to see if the mission has been accomplished, just know we’re still giving it our best shot. The rest is up to Sir Paul and his team.
We still believe.