Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Volunteers Moving on in

Despite the lower-than-low opinions of some people, there are many many people out there that continue to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

From USA Today ....

Two years after Katrina, the spirit of volunteerism is stronger than ever: 600,000 people headed to the Gulf Coast in Year 2 vs. 550,000 the first year after the August 2005 storm, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that runs AmeriCorps and other volunteer programs. Most are short-termers whose sheer numbers have provided the muscle behind the rebuilding. But the brains are the long-term volunteers who have dedicated at least six months to New Orleans. They provide the expertise needed to direct volunteers to the right work sites, teaching them to drywall and varnish wood.

The exact number of long-term volunteers is unknown, but their effect on the rebuilding is not. "We've seen this as the largest volunteer response in American history. There's a huge diversity of volunteers, from retirees to people right out of college," says David Eisner, CEO of the community service agency. "The long-term people are the glue that holds volunteerism together."

Despite all its problems, New Orleans is attracting new residents.
David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, says a growing trend, dubbed "the brain-gain phenomenon," is getting traction in New Orleans. "Katrina offers a new frontier for people who care about social change," he says.

After two years of volunteering in AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), Ashley Sloan, Greg Loushine and Jackie Smith decided to start their own non-profit group, Live St. Bernard.

"Many volunteers stay because they bond with and identify with residents," he says. "It's hard for the volunteers to leave and continue with their lives after bonding with the residents." The couple have decided to make New Orleans their permanent home.

"New Orleans represents the great optimism of America," Eisner says. "We've seen people turn their experience in long-term volunteering to inform their career paths. We've seen people move to change their lives of success to lives of significance."

Things are changing ever so slowly, but they're changing for the good.

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