New Orleans BNP Paribas Aid Brigade — Newsletter. 
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New Orleans BNP Paribas Aid Brigade Newsletter

Lending a Helping Hand

When I was asked by the local ABC affiliate what a Paris-headquartered bank was doing in New Orleans when other U.S. companies seemed not to be present in the rebuilding efforts, my answer was straightforward—our staff wanted to help, they personally wanted to get involved and the bank figured out a way to make it happen. People who work at BNP Paribas are attracted to the bank for many reasons, but one of the most compelling, I believe, is the idea that they can personally make a difference. While part of a very large global institution, there remains a sense of personal commitment and pride which permeates our U.S. organization.

To visit New Orleans is to confront devastation on a scale that most of us have not experienced before. The total destruction of parts of the city is overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, it is easy to believe that it is impossible that 50 people, even highly skilled, with excellent organization and financial support, could really make an impact.

Well, never underestimate the ability of highly motivated people to make a meaningful difference. I saw it, I experienced it and I heard it firsthand from staff, New Orleans firefighters, city officials, school administrators and U.S. government officials. The "best team-building exercise I ever participated in" was the theme from our staff. "Everyone has promised us help, but no one had delivered until your group" from the chiefs of the fire department. "Money is important, but personal commitment and hard, focused work is really special and much appreciated" from Congressman Bobby Jindal of New Orleans. The comments were genuine, the spirit was real and the results were tangible. BNP Paribas made a commitment and delivered. Thanks to the personal commitment of highly motivated and dedicated staff.

While we all should reflect more often on our core values as a company and on our personal values as individuals, an event such as Katrina causes us to confront our personal commitments with the reality of our actions. The bank and its staff measured up well in this exercise. Broad-based financial support from the staff and the bank, coupled with hard work and dedication from the New Orleans Aid Brigade, brought words and ideas into action. It is with considerable pride I say "thank you." Thank you for your efforts and thank you for reaffirming the notion that no matter how overwhelming the situation, people and institutions can contribute in meaningful ways and make a difference.

Special thanks to Bob Coghlan and Bob Fucito for organizing and facilitating the entire Aid Brigade. Their ability to coordinate and execute this effort was fabulous, and everyone was pleased to work together under your guidance and supervision.

—Everett Schenk, Chief Executive Officer,
Corporate and Investment Banking, North America

BNP Paribas reaches out to New Orleans 

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, BNP Paribas reacted with an immediate commitment of $450,000 from the entire Group. This was followed by an employee matching program from BNP Paribas North America that raised an additional $225,280. Raising money would have been enough for most companies, and it is in fact where most stopped, but many people here wanted to do more. For example, staff who were witnessing firsthand the displacement of families and entire communities urged a more hands-on response.

In December, a team from BNP Paribas, led by Robert Coghlan and Robert Fucito, visited New Orleans to investigate the needs of the people. The team came back and reported on the need for volunteers to contribute directly to the rebuilding effort. Originally, the plan was to assist in the rebuilding of Holy Cross School, an institution in New Orleans since 1879. However, the leaders of Holy Cross felt the school would likely be moved, so a major reconstruction effort was uncalled for.

However, upon leaving the school, the team noticed a fire engine being guarded by the National Guard while the firefighters slept in a mobile unit. Speaking with the guards and the firefighters, they realized that there was an opportunity to help in one of the most basic areas. After speaking with Captain Clark of the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD), they discovered that 22 of New Orleans' 33 firehouses were destroyed. Half an hour later, the team met with Chiefs Richard Hampton and Tim McConnell of the NOFD. And that's how the New Orleans Aid Brigade started.

Bob Coghlan and Bob Fucito laid out the goals of the effort. "We hope to do two things: to reach out to the people and to help rebuild the infrastructure so that the people of New Orleans have a place to call home again."

As soon as they returned, the senior management of the Bank endorsed the effort and put the project in motion. "We needed to move right away," says Everett Schenk. "Otherwise, it would have been too late. We wanted to help while they needed it most."

Four firehouses were selected by the NOFD on the basis of need and strategic coverage. The firehouses were in communities where the need was greatest and where rebuilding was occurring. The fire department was a vital component to this rebuilding since, unfortunately, as gas and electricity are turned back on, fires and explosions can happen.

"By helping the New Orleans Fire Department," said Bob Coghlan, "we're helping rebuild the infrastructure of the city."

Two teams of roughly 25 people each were recruited from dozens of volunteers. The first group went down February 11 and worked on Engine House 26 and Engine House 24. Getting started was slow because it was very difficult to get access to the supplies they needed most, such as sheetrock and insulation. The second group came a week later and finished Engine House 24, then started working on Engine House 27 and finally Engine 35.

While each house had its own needs, they all required new beds and new mattresses. Engine 26 required painting, sheetrocking and cleaning of its truck bay. The 25-foot high ceilings certainly didn't help. New ac/heating units were purchased, as was a washer/dryer and a $4,000 electrical panel. It was also during these first days that the team purchased a large diesel heater to counteract the unseasonably low temperatures. With few temperate days, the heater was dragged from firehouse to firehouse for the duration of the project.

Engine 24 had the bottom 4 feet of the walls removed where the water had done the greatest damage. New sheetrock and new electrical panels were installed, as was a brand new kitchen.

Completing their assignment, Team One arrived at the airport and handed off to Team Two, who arrived just in time to shake hands and find out what was ahead of them.

Team Two picked up where Team One finished at Engine House 24 and then moved on to Engine House 27, which required a complete paint job and kitchen demolition and remodeling. Once the painting and kitchen were completed, the team focused on the final piece, Engine House 35. This house was built in the early 1900's and needed a well-deserved paint job upstairs in the living quarters and ceiling repairs from flooding as well as a good paint job in the day room downstairs. All four houses got new refrigerators and custom work from a team of "bankers" who could have easily held their own against the best private contractors.

Each firehouse took roughly three days to rebuild, and the teams worked from about 8:15 every morning to 6, 7, 8 or even 11 pm. Lunch arrived daily from local eateries ("our way of pumping more money into the local economy," said Fucito, as he remembered afternoon meals of jambalaya and Po Boys). "But in all my years, and with all the offsites and training I've been part of, I've never seen people work harder or build better teams."

On February 21, at the completed Engine 26, a ceremony was hosted that included Everett, Larry Sobin, Bob Coghlan and Bob Fucito of BNP Paribas, NOFD Superintendent Charles Parent, representatives of Congressman Bobby Jindal's office and three companies of firefighters. Everett and Bob Coghlan presented Superintendent Parent with a brass plaque for each of the firehouses commemorating their reopening. The BNP Paribas teams were noticeably absent. They were still working on the other firehouses.

And while the major reconstruction originally planned for Holy Cross School was unnecessary, a new computer lab wasn't. The school, which has had 400 of its original 800 students return, had lost all its technology in the flooding that followed the hurricane. So BNP Paribas, with a commitment from Dell Computers, installed a new computer lab in the trailers that now make up the school's classrooms. Twenty new computers, each with a 19-inch flat screen monitor, multifunction printers and a LAN were set up by BNP Paribas IT staff in just one day.

For the Lake Castle School, Ricoh joined BNP Paribas in donating a copier, necessary to make copies of the few salvaged textbooks. BNP Paribas purchased a 2-year service contract to ensure that the copier is always ready to go, and enough paper for one full year and blackboards for every classroom.

Over 550 of New Orleans' 650 firefighters lost their homes, and most of their families had been relocated to other areas, such as Houston, Florida and Georgia. That left many firefighters to sleep in trailers, cruise ships or tents near the firehouses, living on fast food. Two weeks later, over 110 firefighters had a place to call home, thanks to the dedicated teams of BNP Paribas. As one firefighter put it, "It never looked this good before the hurricane."


As New Orleans continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, BNP Paribas remains dedicated to assisting where possible. We are currently working to develop a program with a national office supply chain. Our goal is to arrange for a special online donation program to be set up whereby BNP Paribas staff can donate directly at the retailer's website to a specific fund. BNP Paribas will administer the funds, using the proceeds to purchase necessary supplies such as paper, chalk, notebooks and computer supplies. We will then have these items shipped directly to the schools. We will notify staff with announcements as this project progresses.

In the meantime, please continue to donate as liberally as you can. Several options are:

  • — This non-profit umbrella site allows you to search for organizations based on the type of aid (i.e., clothing, aid to pets, food, etc.) that you wish to give.
  • — At this site, you can post offers of help (housing, volunteering, etc.) as well as search an extensive database of agencies accepting donations.
  • — A news release dated August 29, 2005, lists several phone numbers and websites for monetary donations and volunteer opportunities.
  • — Under the crisis relief tab, you can click on the Hurricane Katrina link and search for the area that you would like to help with.


We are proud of the people below who took the time to participate in the efforts in New Orleans. We also recognize the many more who helped with logistics or simply performing the extra work necessary to allow these people to be away from the office.

[View link above for list.]