Volunteers Help Gulf Coast Build Stronger Future

Aug 29, 2009

On Katrina 4th Anniversary, National Service Remains Backbone of Volunteer Response

(New Orleans, La.) – On the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, there are strong signs of progress and renewal across the entire Gulf Coast, fueled in large part by an outpouring of volunteers and national service participants who've come from across the nation and globe to help the region rebuild stronger than before.

More than a million volunteers have served in the Gulf in the four years since Katrina, providing critical support by gutting and repairing homes, supporting school and youth programs, providing health care and counseling, constructing new homes, and meeting other local needs.

"A big reason for the progress and optimism in the Gulf is the extraordinary contribution of volunteers, who are helping communities across the Gulf Coast come back stronger, safer, and healthier than before,” said Nicola Goren, Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “This large scale volunteer response wouldn't have been possible without the support and leadership provided by the dedicated individuals in our national service programs, and I'm proud of their role and ongoing commitment.”

More than 108,000 participants in AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America have contributed 7.7 million hours in the recovery and rebuilding effort in the four years since Katrina. They have also played a key role in managing the overall volunteer response – the largest in the nation's history – by recruiting or managing more than 527,000 volunteers.

Goren will mark the anniversary by inducting 160 AmeriCorps NCCC members into a year of service based at a new NCCC campus opening in Vicksburg, Miss., on Tuesday. More than 4,000 NCCC members have served on over 975 relief and recovery projects in the wake of Katrina. The campus will cover an 11-state region, and 50 percent of its projects will be in disaster services.

“People in the Gulf Coast are feeling more optimistic and hopeful because they are seeing problems being solved and things getting done,” said Janet Woodka, the Obama Administration's Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding. “Since day one, volunteers and AmeriCorps members have been key to the rebuilding effort, and we need them to keep coming.”

Woodka is leading a group of nearly 100 federal employees and Obama Administration officials who took leave and paid their way to volunteer with New Orleans area nonprofits as part of the President's United We Serve initiative.

In his weekly radio address, President Obama highlighted the progress that has been made in the recovery, the work to be done, and the opportunity to learn the lessons of Katrina.

“So on this day, we commemorate a tragedy that befell our people. But we also remember that with every tragedy comes the chance of renewal. It is a quintessentially American notion – that adversity can give birth to hope, and that the lessons of the past hold the key to a better future. From the streets of New Orleans to the Mississippi Coast, folks are beginning the next chapter in their American stories,” the President said.

National service participants have been a backbone of the post-Katrina volunteer response, working through hundreds of faith-based, school, and community groups and state entities including the Louisiana Serve Commission and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service.

More than 15,000 AmeriCorps members have given 6.6 million hours of service and recruited or coordinated more than 490,000 other volunteers. Their service varies widely, from teaching in New Orleans public schools with Teach for America and building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Gulfport to restoring environmental damage and serving the needs of at-risk youth.

“The AmeriCorps program has played a vital role in our efforts,” said Kristin Palmer, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans. “Without the passion and energy of AmeriCorps members from around the country, the Gulf Coast would not be as far along as it is today.”

Skilled and long-term volunteers are also key to the rebuilding efforts, especially since so much of the focus is now on home building and repair.

Doug Beatty is a retired homebuilder from Northern Michigan who has made nine trips to New Orleans since Katrina. Beatty's current project is to work with AmeriCorps NCCC members to open a new Camp Hope, which will provide housing to thousands of volunteers. Beatty, who has spent 11 months serving in the Gulf, says volunteers and the AmeriCorps members that lead them are critical to repopulating the city. “If it wasn't for the volunteers, many of these residents never could have come back.”

In Gulfport, Miss., a group of retired plumbers, electricians and carpenters have formed the “Handyman Brigade,” using their skills to make home repairs for seniors or disabled citizens who aren't able or can't afford to perform the work themselves.

“The Handyman Brigade has worked efficiently, tirelessly, and willingly to help those in need,” said Magdelena Holland, Director of the Harrison County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). “They are saving our community tens of thousands of dollars in home repair costs, and rebuilding a stronger community for us all.”

National service has also fueled the post-Katrina “brain gain” of young professionals who have moved to the Gulf to start new organizations and provide leadership to the nonprofit sector. This is especially true in New Orleans, where scores of AmeriCorps members came to serve and then stayed to work, plunging into jobs and volunteer initiatives to improve their adopted home.

Robert Fogarty left a job on Wall Street to come to New Orleans to serve in AmeriCorps VISTA, where he recruited and managed volunteers for the City of New Orleans. Now a city staffer, Fogarty has formed Evacuteer.org, a nonprofit that trains and prepares volunteers to assist low-income, elderly, and disabled resident in evacuating the city if another storm threatens.

Katrina anniversary events are planned across the Gulf Coast, including memorials, house dedications, and many community service projects. Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Governor Barbour will celebrate the completion of a twenty-eight house subdivision in Long Beach, while New Orleans Habitat will raise the wall on its 300th home; Operation REACH will dedicate a new headquarters and children's center, and the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation is hosting a day of rebuilding activities across New Orleans, among other events.

Volunteers and AmeriCorps members serving with the St. Bernard Project will work for 24-hours straight to complete three homes and kick off 4 NOLA, a national campaign to raise awareness and support for rebuilding efforts.

"It focuses on the positive, promotes the progress we've made, but shows that we still have a ways to go," said St. Bernard Project co-founder Liz McCartney of 4 NOLA, which was thought up by an AmeriCorps VISTA member. "We've seen thousands of people who are ready, willing and able to respond to the needs of their fellow Americans. It's our job to continue reminding them that the need here is great."

Corporation Acting CEO Nicola Goren echoed the thought and urged volunteers to keep coming. “While much progress has been made, the job is not done, and we need more volunteers. There are still schools to repair, houses to build, children who need teachers, and people with health needs. We encourage Americans to answer the President's call to service and get involved.”

Back to Top