Gathering Showcases Impact of Volunteers in Disasters and Other Critical Issues
New Orleans – Witnessing first-hand the power that national service and social innovation has had in restoring the Gulf Coast, nearly 4,000 service leaders from across the country gathered in New Orleans today to kick off the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS).
The conference – the world's largest gathering dedicated to the power of volunteerism and service – is co-sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Points of Light Institute (POLI). After a spirited Mardi Gras-style parade to open the plenary honoring Champions of Service, Leaders in Innovation, speakers applauded the dedication of volunteers who pitched in to help New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast rebuild and who work tirelessly every day to make our nation stronger.
“We are here this week to celebrate the vibrant spirit of service that has brought this city back and has reminded the world that America is great because America is good,” said Robert Velasco, acting CEO, CNCS. “That's the spirit that got you here today. It's the spirit that gets you up every morning with one single thought in mind: How can I be of service to my community, my country, and my world?”
New Orleans provides an ideal backdrop for this national convening, as more than one million volunteers have contributed to the region's recovery over the six years since Hurricane Katrina. In welcoming conference participants, Mayor Mitch Landrieu pointed to civic engagement as the catalyst for his city's rebirth and lasting change.
“New Orleans has become, because of necessity, a laboratory for innovation and change, and we would never have gotten there without the help of so many people from around the world, and around the nation, who came to use service as the way to help our people stand back up. For that the people of New Orleans will be forever grateful,” Landrieu said.
Famous New Orleanians including jazz legend Branford Marsalis and bipartisan power couple James Carville and Mary Matalin thanked volunteers for their critical role in helping New Orleans come back stronger than before, and praised those responding to other disasters today. Hundreds of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members are working with thousands of community volunteers to respond to the devastating floods and tornadoes that have ripped through the South and Midwest this spring.
“Now, more than ever, we need service champions – super-empowered citizens who are utilizing new, more powerful tools for change,” said Michelle Nunn, CEO, Points of Light Institute. “It's incumbent upon our service community to unite and collaborate as never before to demonstrate that service and citizen engagement are essential to meeting the challenges before us. At this moment of polarization and acrimony, service can unite our nation and the world, creating bridges that are unique.”
With employees eager to volunteer, management acumen, and other resources, the business community plays a critical role deepening the impact of service. To expand its network of private sector champions, POLI today named Cliff Burrows, president, Starbucks Coffee U.S., as the new chairman of its Corporate Service Council, a group of more than 40 companies working to galvanize businesses to bring new leadership to national service.
“Working together, we're better equipped to answer the call to action around issues of importance in the neighborhoods in which we do business,” Burrows said.
During the three day meeting, local, state, and national civic leaders will participate in a range of workshops to learn about community-based strategies and tools to help tackle the nation's most pressing issues. They are also giving back to the host city through a number of hands-on service projects.
Earlier in the day, volunteers fanned out across New Orleans to restore the public spaces that help define the city's unique character. Landrieu, Nunn, Velasco, and POLI Board Chairman Neil Bush joined 150 volunteers to restore Sam Bonart Park, one of 25 recreation areas benefiting from service projects this week. “This is an injection of life into this neighborhood,” said Bush.
In the true spirit of “paying it forward,” a team of New Orleans chefs and musicians departed from the conference today to bring relief to displaced citizens of Joplin, Missouri. The “Three Chefs: One Mission” campaign led a caravan of 10 refrigerated trucks to deliver fresh Louisiana seafood and New Orleans music to feed 1,000 volunteers, first responders, and residents at a city park in Joplin tomorrow.
“Even if just for a moment - but hopefully for a few hours – we'll ease the minds and lift the spirits of the Joplin community,” said Greg Reggio and the Taste Buds, a local culinary company. “A little progress each day, a little bit of brightness are all things that ease the mind and help heal the soul, and we hope to remain an ongoing partner with Joplin beyond this experience during their rebuilding process.”
"This taste of New Orleans culture will be greatly appreciated by the hard-working volunteers and residents of Joplin who are coming back from a terrible disaster with a strong spirit of resiliency and hope," said AmeriCorps Director Gomperts, who toured the volunteer response effort in Joplin on Saturday. Gomperts reported that since the tornado struck two weeks ago, the Volunteer Reception Center established and led by 130 AmeriCorps members has coordinated more than 14,000 unaffiliated volunteers who have performed more than 50,000 hours of service.
On day two of the National Conference, highlights will include:
- National and Community Service Plenary –Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and CNCS Acting CEO Robert Velasco will discuss the critical role of service and social innovation in achieve impact throughout the nation. Live webcast from 11:30-12:30 EST at http://www.volunteeringandservice.org
- CEO Roundtable: The Business Champions Playbook How Executives Are Leveraging Their Company's Unique Assets for Greater Impact – This forum serves as the opening for the Business Track and will feature C-suite executives that have taken an innovative approach in helping to build resilient communities.
- Resilient Communities: The Critical Role of Faith Organizations – In reflecting upon local lessons in the Katrina recovery, panelists will discuss the role of faith in resilience and call for civil dialogue for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 this September.
- Immersion Learning Sessions – Participants will venture into New Orleans for a first-hand learning experience.
- Strategies and Inspiring Practices in Global Corporate Volunteer Engagement – Big picture trends in international employee volunteering with a focus on innovative programs and employee campaigns of leading global corporations.