Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010, Volunteer Reflection

By Kate Coon
College Counselor at Noble and Greenough School

Noble and Greenough High School in Dedham, Massachusetts has been volunteering to New Orleans each spring for the past four years, and the remarkable thing is that each year the group coming down seems to grow larger. This year, our group was the largest yet, with 55 students and 10 teachers, many of whom have come down once, twice and even three times before.

The volunteer department at St. Bernard Project set the stage for what was, for us, a great, great volunteering experience. Everything ran like clockwork -- from the pre-trip communication, to the first orientation on Monday morning, to the well-organized and documented site assignments, to the incredibly competent on-site supervision by our Americorps site supervisors.

We demolded (new word-- "demolderized"), stripped nails, cut up heating vents and smashed out old plumbing -- we rotated out groups to keep teams working on three different sites all week long and every single one of our volunteers found the St. Bernard Project sites to be high points of the week. They would have been happy to go back every single day, so it’s safe to say that next year, we WILL be back!

It is sad, though, that we still need to come back. The rebuilding is real, and encouraging. Houses have fresh paint and pretty flower beds and a sense of community and confidence. But on the same block, you can see a house with the words "Bulldoze -- Take Down Now" spray-painted across the front and the front door open, through which you catch a glimpse at a mound of abandoned household possessions.

All of these experiences amounted to a wonderful week. It was full of challenging moments yet also full of laughter. Students and teachers alike soberly reflected on the "murderous floods," as Professor Rich Campanella called them, and amazement at the resilience of your great city. Everywhere we went, we heard folks and other volunteers sing the praises of St. Bernard Project as the most well-run, effective, and satisfying of volunteer operations. From my experience with many groups, I have to agree. Keep up the great work, and we will be doing some fundraising on our end to help support the mission. And, we'll be back, in force, next spring. Thank you, for everything.

March 30, 2010, Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

By Mariposa Stormer, Detroit MI
Client Service Coordinator for St. Bernard Project

As a twenty-something non-profit volunteer in New Orleans, people are constantly asking me why I decided to move here. There are the self-evident reasons, I saw how Katrina devastated a unique American city and left its citizens to fend for themselves and I read that the projected recovery of the city was ten years away. I came down to help rebuild because I could not sit by and watch the city slowly, painstakingly, recover when I could do something to help.

However, there are more personal reasons for moving to the Big Easy. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by local Detroit musicians. My childhood was heavily influenced by the jazz and blues music that traveled up the Mississippi River and created the Motown sound Detroit is known for today. I knew the names of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton before I could find New Orleans on a map. My parents taught me a little bit about the history and culture of New Orleans and the reasons it became the birthplace of jazz. I was drawn to New Orleans for many reasons. The European architecture, the laid back character of the city, and the jazz resonating in every corner, made New Orleans seem like my kind of city.

Before moving to New Orleans to volunteer, I had been living abroad in New Zealand. In discussions I was often the de-facto American ambassador and many people asked me about New Orleans and the recovery efforts around Hurricane Katrina. I had to field difficult questions from people all over the world who were continuously asking me why New Orleans was still not rebuilt.

The most honest reason I can give for moving to New Orleans after Katrina is I refuse to live in a country where people do not help one another in their time of need. I came to New Orleans to volunteer because if the United States cannot help itself, how can it claim to help the suffering of other counties?

At the St. Bernard Project we often talk about the problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “solvable problems.” I’m volunteering in New Orleans because we’re not trying to cure cancer, end hunger or find world peace. I’m here because a hurricane damaged a city and the residents need help rebuilding their homes and lives. I can help people pick up the pieces of their lives and return home.

New Orleans is a great city, and no question about it the city will recover. What I didn’t realize before I moved to New Orleans, is how much I would receive from the city in return. In the past ninth months, I have had the privilege of living in one of the most festive, historical and unique places in the United States. Now, I am still here rebuilding New Orleans because I believe the culture and history that is unique to New Orleans needs to be preserved. In fact, I challenge everyone to come to New Orleans, volunteer and get to know the amazing people and traditions that make up this city.

Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26, 2010, Be Part of SBP's Network

Before volunteers arrive in New Orleans to volunteer with St. Bernard Project, most of them do not know what to expect. Many assume they will see a cleaned up city, others think there is no progress being made. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and for a few days or one week, volunteers from across the country are immersed in the rebuilding of New Orleans.

St. Bernard Project works hard to provide our volunteers, who range from high school and college groups to retired couples, with the best and most informational and moving experience possible. Many volunteers get to meet the homeowner of the house they are working on and go on levee tours that show them the affects Katrina and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet had on Louisiana’s wetlands. What unites the volunteers who spend time with SBP is the feeling that each of them accomplished an important step in the process of returning another deserving family home.

This group of dedicated volunteers make up a strong foundation for our ever-growing social network. SBP now has more than 5,000 Facebook fans, and more than 1,000 unique page views every week. We are also growing our followers on Twitter and update regularly about our progress.

This social network, which has expanded beyond just volunteers and donors, is at the heart of SBP’s outreach efforts. With a strong and engaged base, SBP can do amazing things. For example, SBP won $62,000 through the Chase Community Giving Facebook competition, after receiving more than 18,000 individual votes.

After this competition, SBP realized just how important and powerful an engaged group of fans on Facebook and Twitter can be. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now, this blog are forums where current and past volunteers can come together and engage in conversation about the homes they worked on, their experiences in New Orleans or St. Bernard Parish, and share ideas about how to make St. Bernard Project better and more resilient.

Keep updated on the progress of the house you worked on through Facebook and the individual fan pages we’ve created for each house. Follow us on Twitter (@stbernardproj) for daily updates on our progress and new projects. And use this blog as a forum for hearing other volunteer experiences, stories from our homeowners and fundraising successes, among other topics.

While our goal has always been to provide the best experience for our volunteers while they are here, we want to extend that experience so when they return home, they still feel connected to the work we are doing every day and the progress that is being made in the New Orleans area.

With that, welcome to our blog. Please let us know if you’re interested in writing an entry about your experiences with SBP. Thank you!

March 26, 2010, Are you a leader? If so, SBP needs you!

Hi everyone! My name is Matt Haines and I am a member of the St. Bernard Project's Development Team. One new project I am working on is the expansion of our Campus Initiative program.

Lately, our organization has spent a lot of time critically thinking about the way we engage our volunteers after they leave New Orleans and return home. As a development team member, we have the privilege of speaking with volunteers at the end of their volunteer week. For them -- they have just come off a week of rebuilding, a week of meeting homeowners, a week of seeing the devastation that remains and a week of being swept up by New Orleans' oft-mentioned charm.

By the time we talk to them at the end of that week, they are charged up and excited to continue to help rebuild New Orleans.

But then they get home, and life starts to take back over. Work, school and a social life all return to their rightful places and New Orleans gets further and further away. So many great people, with incredible hearts, start to think, "I'm so far away. What can I do from home that will be as helpful as volunteering in New Orleans and rebuilding Ms. Grimaldi's home."

The truth is...A LOT!

And that sense of empowerment is what we hope to capture through our Campus Initiative. New Orleans is one of our country's greatest treasures, and its people are some of the most unique on this planet. One of the best parts of this job is that we get to spend time around the clients we serve; and one thing that is really clear is that so many of them are overwhelmed that men and women from across our country -- from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine -- want to help THEM recover and rebuild.

That is what Campus Initiative is all about. College and high school groups from each of our states, united in helping rebuild the homes and lives of American citizens. Not only does it give New Orleans a boost of energy to know that we have your support, but -- together -- the funds we can raise and the number of volunteers you can recruit can have a HUGE impact.

So let's do it. Together. If you are interested in joining our Campus Initiative, please email me at matt.haines@stbernardproject.org

If you think you know someone who would be great for this, please forward this entry along. Welcome to the team.