Vestal resident proves actions can have far-reaching effect
Life beating you down these days? Feel a bit ragged around the edges, stretched too thin?
Meet Leslie Holly of Vestal.
"I can do the equivalent of two and a half hours of work a day, and it takes me all day to do it," says Holly, 41.
In Social Security-speak, she's fully, permanently disabled. Can't live alone. Spends afternoons recovering from even the most laid-back mornings.
Nonetheless, she managed to help hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of people whose lives were turned to chaos by Hurricane Katrina.
And she did it from right here, at a computer in the Vestal home she shares with her parents, Kathy and David H. Dibble.
Holly doesn't look disabled.
A common virus navigated to her right inner ear a few years ago, leaving her with vertigo so severe that, as she explains it, her brain has to work overtime just to keep her upright, thereby leaving other brain functions impaired.
When one part of the vestibular system is compromised, the brain's calculations are affected, she says.
Since her mom was struck with a medical emergency a few months ago, Holly has been taking on more of the housework.
"I still can't do the dishwasher," she says. "It's the uppy-downy thing."
Her memory is affected, too.
"She's my hard drive," Holly says, nodding toward her 74-year-old mother.
Talking on the phone can also trigger vertigo, but Holly's fingers can fly when they touch a computer keyboard -- even if it's for only minutes at a time.
Steve Haggerty, executive director of the Albany-based Capital District Habitat for Humanity, credits Holly with facilitating one project, when Habitat was unable to mobilize a "house in a box" idea.
"She hooked us up with an affiliate out of Florida," he says. "We ended up bringing (college students on spring break) down to Pearlington, Miss." That crew was able to erect simple structures for four families who were still living in tents six months after Katrina hit.
She's not impressed with large organizations, she says. "They're too inflexible to bend the rules to get the job done, so it's up the grassroots organizations," she says.
Initially her efforts centered on Pearlington, but soon they spread throughout Hancock County and beyond. "There were all these little grassroots organizations doing the work," she explains. "I basically was the go-between for all of them."
Lots of people were willing to help, but they needed money. So she turned her attention to researching for funding options.
She set up two online venues: KatrinaNetworking.blogspot.com and KatrinaCoalition@aol.com.
"I am using my networking and marketing skills to pass along vital information to organizations, volunteers and survivors of the 2005 hurricane season," the first site reads. "Grants, networking, advocating, assistance resources, articles and more. Updated regularly to better assist you."
She has had about 64,000 hits on the sites.
"An average of 130 a day, even now, which speaks to the quality of the information," she says.
She was able to offer tangible support, too, when she encountered specific need.
"I gave my dad a mission," she says. He went out to a tennis club and grabbed all the tired-out yellow balls he could find. He then put them in his drill press and poked holes in them so they could be put on the bottoms of desks and chairs in improvised schoolrooms within FEMA trailers.
A school project in Hancock County required pillow cases. She supplicated to Bates-Troy, and they came up with enough to fill the need.
Jeanne Brooks is a teacher at South Hancock Elementary School, which replaces two smaller schools that were completely wiped out.
"I never met Leslie, but she must be a very caring person," Brooks says. "She has to be incredibly kind. She put hours and hours and hours into everything she did."
Holly made wall hangings for the school. She even designed a quilt patterns she called Katrina, Brooks explains.
"She has had a far-reaching impact on this county," Brooks says, "and she has never been here.
As Holly looks toward her own needs for the future, she has been forced to expend less energy on behalf of the Katrina victims.
"Before I was updating seven pages a day; now it's about two to three times a month," she says.
Disabled, yes. Defeated? No.
The last line of her e-mail signature says it all: "Fortuna Pertinax Venia. Fortune Favors the Stubborn."