You Can Build It If You Come
While New Orleans has been vastly rebuilt in the five years since hurricane Katrina, there is still work to be done — and voluntourism opportunities for visitors abound.
You Can Build It If You Come
© CARMEN SEGOVIA
Mitch Herman’s idea of volunteering used to be writing a check. “I thought that was enough for me. Cross charity off my list and move on. But it doesn’t work that way anymore,” says Herman, as he paints a wooden front porch in the bright August sunshine on his first visit to New Orleans. “Nothing I’ve ever done in my life is as rewarding as this.”
Herman, who was visiting from Connecticut, is just one of the estimated 2.2 million out-of-towners who have participated in “voluntourism” in New Orleans since Katrina. On this trip, he was volunteering for Fifty for Five, a weeklong event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the hurricane. Put together by Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership, the event gathered 1,000 volunteers to work rebuilding 50 homes in the Gentilly neighborhood.
Rebuilding Together has already reconstructed more than 800 homes on the Gulf Coast, partnering with corporations like Sears and Choice Hotels as well as individual leisure travelers. Recipient homeowners are often elderly, veterans, medically or developmentally disabled or victims of fraud from unscrupulous contractors. “Katrina was such an untenable situation that there’s no point in judging who deserves to be helped and what’s fair,” says Daniela Rivero, director of the group’s New Orleans operation. “What we’re doing is about rebuilding community, rebuilding New Orleans. It’s bigger than individual houses.”
Operation Helping Hands, administered by Catholic Charities, has already worked with 25,000 volunteers and completed 2,500 projects since Katrina. What started with home gutting — taking flooded and mold-infested houses down to the bare studs — grew into a rebuilding initiative. While any skills are welcome, you don’t need a contractor’s know-how to help. “Anybody can use a paint brush or do yard work,” says client services manager Debbie Koehler. Volunteer Grace Cunningham from Castle Rock, CO, wasn’t exactly a power tool expert before her New Orleans volunteer stint. “But you’d be surprised what you can learn,” she says.
If plants and the outdoors hold more appeal than hammers and nails, City Park can always use some help. When the floodwaters from the breached Orleans canal receded, virtually every bit of green and every structure in the 1,300-acre park was destroyed — a $43 million loss. To date, 35,000 volunteers have scraped and painted fences, railings and buildings, as well as planted thousands of trees and countless bushes and flowers.
“The opportunity to help people and be part of something really historic — the rebuilding of a city after an unprecedented disaster — is amazing,” says Peyton Craighill, a volunteer from Fairfax, VA. “There’s still so much work to be done, and there’s no better place to do it.”
CITY PARK 504-483-9459; www.neworleanscitypark.com
REBUILDING TOGETHER NEW ORLEANS 504-581-7032; www.rtno.org/give-time/volunteer
OPERATION HELPING HANDS, CATHOLIC CHARITIES ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW ORLEANS 504-523-3755; www.ccano.org
VISIT www.volunteerlouisiana.gov for other opportunities
STAY, SAVE, HELP
SOME OF THE CITY’S HOTELS OFFER SPECIAL RATES AND PACKAGES TO VISITORS WHO VOLUNTEER.
SPIRIT TO SERVE PACKAGE
New Orleans Marriott; Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette Hotel; Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel Includes boxed lunch for two and transpport too eeither Haabi b tat for Humanity or Second Harvest Food Bankk volunteer sites 504-581-1000; www.marriott.com
CRESCENT CITY COMEBACK PACKAGE
The Ritz Carlton, New Orleans Includes boxed lunch for two and transportation to a volunteer site (i.e. Habi b tat for Humanity) 504-524-1331; www.ritzcarlton.com