The visible devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was matched by a less visible displacement of entire families and communities to places around the U.S. To this day, many have not come home. Those who did return credit family ties and New Orleans’ unmistakable flavor as what called them back home.
Matthew Causey was 11 years old when the storm hit. His family evacuated to Texas, then California, and then to nearby Slidell, Louisiana, before they could come back to New Orleans East. He returned to a community very different than the one he left, but family was there. And, despite local schools’ early struggles to educate students with limited resources, Causey was able to stay on track. “I was actually ahead of my class when I came back from attending other schools,” he said. And he went on to graduate high school.
When Causey wasn’t in class, he was playing basketball on courts located in some of New Orleans’ public parks. Now 21, his work with New Orleans Parks and Parkways gives him the chance to nurture and maintain the parks where he played and which other children and youth now enjoy.
His path to a job and a way to give back to his community came through Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Network for Economic Opportunity initiative, which created Support and Training Result in Valuable Employees (STRIVE NOLA). Causey credits STRIVE with preparing him for a fruitful career path by sharpening his communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and opening up better job opportunities than he had imagined.
After graduating from the program, he interviewed for several opportunities with the city, but found just what he was looking for at New Orleans Parks and Parkways. The department manages more than 2,000 acres of recreational spaces, including golf courses, parks and public buildings.
His work is no easy task, but Causey enjoys his position and plans to stay with the department to restore and beautify New Orleans.
“It’s been a learning process for me since everything I’m doing is new,” he said. “But, as I take on more tasks and keep at it, I see myself growing and can see myself doing this job for a long time.”
Causey serves as a role model and a positive influence on the youth in his own social and work circles, regularly sharing positive posts through social media and spreading the word about the job opportunities that can lead to a career at Parks and Parkways.
“I’m lucky because my parents gave me a good work ethic, and I try to spread that to other people. A lot of people here grow up around negativity, and young people need positivity,” he said. “So, I’ll always give words of encouragement to friends on Facebook and remind them we all need to set goals and then go after them.”
Causey’s next goal is to earn his Commercial Driver’s License, which New Orleans Parks and Parkways will pay for him to obtain once he reaches his one-year anniversary with the department. He can see a long career with the department, growing in responsibility and opportunity.
His supervisor, Ann Macdonald, director of New Orleans Parks and Parkways, sees the great potential in Causey and wants to see others take advantage of the career opportunities in her department and elsewhere. She looks forward to training him on the use of the numerous pieces of heavy equipment that his CDL will enable him to operate and seeing him take on new leadership roles in a department with many career employees who will retire in the next few years.
Looking toward the next decade, Causey said he expects to have his CDL license, his own house, a car and a family.