If there was ever a story about the power of education, it’s about to be felt in Lake Charles.
Years ago, young David Filo graduated from Sam Houston High School near Lake Charles, then went on to a degree in computer engineering from Tulane University, then a master’s from Stanford University in California. He still, though, has family in Lake Charles, where his brother is a prominent lawyer.
But Filo made his fortune in California: With Jerry Yang, Filo started an internet portal in 1994, and the project turned into Yahoo!, the first popular web directory.
This story of Silicon Valley wealth has come along at the perfect time for the Lake Charles area. It was hammered by Hurricane Laura, and then followed up by Hurricane Delta only weeks later.
David and Angela Filo donated $2.5 million to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. The money will fund a master plan for Calcasieu and Cameron parishes to rebuild a more resilient region.
The Filos said they wanted their money to help “Lake Charles build back better and more resilient.”
It is a tremendously important goal. Earlier big gifts have helped nonprofits serve the ravaged families of southwest Louisiana during disaster relief. But looking to the long term is also vital.
Few places in the world know that better than Louisiana.
As insurance money provides for rebuilding of private homes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also fund repair and rebuilding of public structures. Lake Charles, like many other places in Louisiana, has been through this story before. Hurricane Katrina slammed the New Orleans area, and then Hurricane Rita hit southwest Louisiana.
In both cases, the devastation overwhelmed many people and families, but it also overwhelmed the federal bureaucracies trying to help. The good news is that, in large part because of the Katrina experience, changes to the Stafford Act and other recovery laws in recent years give more leeway to local governments to build facilities back better, rather than just in the same place.
It seems a small change, but the implications in the Lake Charles area are enormous. One does not have to rebuild every school the same way; maybe school populations have changed, but there was not enough money before to right-size those with smaller student bodies or enlarge and improve those needing bigger campuses. Same with police stations or transit barns or many other structures.
The Filo grant allows for a data-driven assessment of the region’s needs and ways to improve the performance of public facilities, as well as rebuild specific buildings in more resilient ways.
As slammed as the region has been, the old saying applies: It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re up to your behind in alligators. The Filo grant can fund insights into the region’s future in ways that restore but also transform the region.
Way to go, Sam Houston High.