Three Years After Katrina, National Service Remains a Critical Force in Rebuilding Effort
Monday, August 25, 2008
Posted by: Greg Heinrich
Volunteers Key to Progress; More Are Needed
(Washington D.C.) -- Three years after Hurricane Katrina unleashed a wave of devastation across the Gulf Coast, national service programs continue to provide critical support in meeting local needs, building homes, managing volunteers, and helping communities come back better and stronger.
New figures released today by the Corporation for National and Community Service show that more than 105,000 participants in AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America have contributed more than 5.4 million hours in the recovery effort. They have also played a leadership role in managing the overall volunteer response – the largest in the nation's history – by recruiting or managing more than 405,000 additional volunteers. (See fact sheet and chart)
“American citizens from every state have played heroic and indispensable roles in responding to Hurricane Katrina,” said Corporation CEO David Eisner. “And, in return, this response demonstrated the power of a robust national service program that can support these volunteers and provide sustained, intensive service. National service programs and the volunteers they support have given hope and help to millions of Gulf residents, and we remain committed to the recovery effort.”
In speeches in New Orleans and Mississippi last week, President Bush praised the spirit of compassion and generosity of volunteers. “As we think about the future, it's important to remember some of the great acts of compassion that took place. I think about the folks who came from across the country here to volunteer -- 14 million hours. Isn't that amazing? Brothers and sisters in need, and total strangers came to say, ‘what can I do to help you?' ”
The President's trip highlighted signs of progress along the Gulf Coast including restored levees and infrastructure, more people returning to their homes, increased tourism, and the reopening of schools and small businesses, but also the challenges that remain in housing, health care, crime, and other areas. The President pledged continued federal support in the recovery, and saluted the industriousness of residents and the compassion of volunteers.
Volunteers have carried out a wide range of activities in the three years since Katrina made landfall, including supporting shelter and feeding operations; establishing call centers and warehousing sites; assisting with case work and benefits coordination; providing health services; setting up school and youth programs; debris removal, mucking out homes, and constructing new homes.
National service programs have been a backbone of this larger 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. Some highlights:
More than 12,000 AmeriCorps members have given 4.2 million hours of service and recruited or coordinated more than 386,000 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.
AmeriCorps NCCC, a team-based residential program for 18-24 year-olds, has made Katrina response its primary focus these past three years, deploying more than 4,000 members to intensive assignments in the Gulf. NCCC members have refurbished 9,500 homes, built 1,450 new homes, completed 52,000 damage assessments, and trained and supervised more than 227,000 volunteers.
128 AmeriCorps VISTAs just completed a highly successful Summer of Service in New Orleans, where they provided enrichment activities for more than 10,000 New Orleans youth. This was the second year of the program, which was created to ensure youth had positive activities during the summer months. Full-time year-long VISTAs are also serving on long-term recovery committees and helping rebuild and expand the capacity of community groups that fight poverty.
More than 18,600 Senior Corps volunteers have served in Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts, mentoring and tutoring at-risk youth, providing independent living services to frail elderly, and building homes and managing community volunteers.
Tens of thousands of students supported by Learn and Serve America have raised funds and items needed for hurricane relief, gutted and rebuilt homes, and traveled to the Gulf Coast to volunteer on alternative spring break and summer trips.
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.
“Katrina was a defining moment for national service and the large volunteer sector, and we are very proud of the way Americans answered the call to serve,” said Eisner. “But 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. Gulf Coast organizations are better positioned than ever and we encourage you to get involved.”
Eisner also noted how Katrina taught the national service field valuable lessons that have already been put to work in other disasters. Among others, Katrina showed that national service volunteers can serve in a wide range of high-level roles, including assisting with evacuation and special needs residents, supporting long-term recovery committees, operating volunteer reception centers and base camps, and organizing and leading groups of volunteers. Trained AmeriCorps teams have been carrying out such roles in response to winter ice storms in Missouri, tornadoes in Greensburg, Kansas, and Parkersburg, Iowa, California forest fires, severe summer flooding in Iowa and Missouri, and other recent natural disasters.
National service programs will join in several events to commemorate the Katrina third anniversary by drawing attention to the need for more volunteers including a 24-hour build by the St. Bernard Project to help repair five family homes; unveiling of a newly refurbished green home in the Lower Ninth Ward by NOLA100, and dedication of nine new homes in Musician's Village built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers and AmeriCorps members.
The Corporation for National and Community Service improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. Each year the Corporation engages more than four million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service to meet local needs through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs. For more information, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/.