F ew cities in the world rival New Orleans for its tourist pleasures. Visitors will always come to the Big Easy for play, and now many are coming to work. Since the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the more recent BP oil spill, New Orleanians need all the help they can get. If you are thinking about arriving early for the 2011 RI Convention, 21-25 May, or extending your stay to volunteer your time, here are some sources for worthy projects. In the proverbial spirit of Southern hospitality, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau also provides a link to “voluntourism” opportunities on its website, www.neworleanscvb.com.
This Rotarian-coordinated construction project will take place immediately before the convention. The New Orleans Mission is the city’s largest private service provider for homeless adults and children. In honor of RI President Ray Klinginsmith, volunteers from four districts in his home state of Missouri and the neighboring state of Kansas plan to convert part of a mission building into a library and reading room. The Rotary clubs of New Orleans Riverbend and St. Charles Parish will do preliminary work so the space will be ready for volunteers willing to paint, install light fixtures, and assemble bookshelves and other furniture. In addition, the Mission will also have other projects available for volunteers who wish to help out. Contact Vickie Randel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-841-1717.
HandsOn New Orleans is a nonprofit that helps rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The group also can help match volunteers with other community outreach projects, from helping at animal shelters to mentoring in schools. Projects are available for all skill levels and often include opportunities for children as well as adults. Contact email@example.com or 504-483-7041.
This organization’s most visible home construction project in New Orleans is the Musicians’ Village in the Upper Ninth Ward, but it has other sites throughout the area. Founded in 1976, Habitat requires “sweat equity” from low-income homeowners-to-be, who work alongside volunteers. The group doesn’t build on Sundays or Mondays. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-861-2077.
Started after Hurricane Katrina, Beacon of Hope was founded in the Lakewood South community but has expanded to other neighborhoods. It welcomes volunteers of all ages – individuals and groups – to assist homeowners with landscaping, painting, and all types of building repair. The organization charges a small fee ($10) and requests that volunteers apply at least four weeks in advance. Contact email@example.com or 504-309-5120.
Spanning 1,300 acres, New Orleans City Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Volunteers play a major role in maintaining the property, due in large part to staff reductions after the hurricane. In addition to pruning, weeding, and mowing, volunteers can help with plant cultivation in one of several gardens and greenhouses, and serve as tour guides for schoolchildren. Contact Jim Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-483-9459.
Only three years old, Bayou Rebirth matches volunteers with wetlands preservation and restoration efforts in southeastern Louisiana. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is engaged in major projects, Bayou Rebirth gives individuals and groups an opportunity to take part in plantings and other minor restorative efforts that provide firsthand experience in environmental stewardship. It also offers visitors a chance to see up close the extraordinary ecosystem of the Mississippi River Delta and its perilous state after the BP oil spill. Contact Paxson Sterling at email@example.com or 504-267-5724.
As this issue of The Rotarian went to press, opportunities to help with the enormous coastal cleanup challenge resulting from the oil spill were just beginning to be posted. Volunteers likely will be needed in a wide range of areas, from rescue and care of injured wildlife to clerical and administrative support tasks. Those wishing to assist in the recovery effort would do well to monitor information at LA Gulf Response, a consortium of environmental groups, including the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, National Audubon Society, and Nature Conservancy.
Volunteer opportunities sponsored by Rotarians will be posted at www.rotary.org . In the meantime, you can relieve the planning itch by visiting the websites of some of the area nonprofits that receive support from the Rotary Club of New Orleans’ charitable fund.
The New Orleans branch of this international organization, which provides support to families facing medical challenges, had to close for extensive repairs after Katrina. Volunteers are welcome to help out with tasks such as gardening and cooking.
Since Hurricane Katrina, more than 14,000 volunteers have helped rebuild 241 homes for low-income elderly and disabled residents through this organization, which has been in operation since 1988.
Yes, indeed, cemeteries need saving too. This group uses volunteers to clean up and restore them throughout the city. And it does so with a sense of humor: One heading on its website reads “Tomb It May Concern.”
If you prefer to browse for volunteer service projects on your own, a good place to start is the Volunteer Louisiana website. The search function allows you to set parameters for the type of work you would like to do based on location, your skills and areas of interest, and the amount of time you have available.
Be sure to check with the organizations directly for specific information, as policies and procedures vary. Some charge a fee to cover insurance and other expenses, while others do not. Some provide transportation and food, but with others you’re on your own. Some groups allow children to participate, and some are strictly for adults. For all your other convention needs, visit www.rotary.org/convention . Register by 15 December for special pricing.