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Volunteers still needed in New Orleans

UU Service Committee takes over responsibility for coordinating UU volunteers.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, volunteers are still urgently needed in New Orleans said Peggy Powell, Gulf Coast Volunteer program associate for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, Mass.

Scores of Unitarian Universalist congregations have sent groups to the Gulf since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, followed by Rita on September 24. This summer five groups and some individuals have worked in New Orleans and there have been numerous inquiries for October, November, and into the new year, said Powell. Most people come as part of groups ranging in size from 10 to 40 members. Smaller groups and individuals will generally be assigned to larger groups.

Much of the work in the Gulf up to now has been the demolition and gutting of houses and businesses, but that is changing, Powell said. "There is still some demolition and gutting work to do but more and more the work is rebuilding."

That’s what Diane Cornman-Levy found when she visited New Orleans from August 18 to 25 with a group of 23 people organized by the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, Pa. The group included people from the UU Society of Germantown and several UUs from Maryland. The group also included six teenagers from a Philadelphia program, Teens for Good. Main Line Unitarian had raised $2,000 to support their participation.

The group spent its week helping five families restore one room in each of their houses so they could move out of FEMA trailers and get back into their homes. This trip was Cornman-Levy’s first venture into New Orleans since the hurricanes. "There is still so much devastation, it's overwhelming," she said. "It looks like the hurricane hit a month ago. New Orleans will need help for a long time. People’s lives have been shattered and are still shattered."

She said her group spent the week painting, repairing walls, and delivering furniture. "It's very rewarding to see these families moving back home. For some it's the first time they’ve slept at home in two years."

She added, "We're going to come back. We could stay here two years and still have plenty to do.”

Powell is the person to contact for UU groups that want to come to the Gulf Coast. Many of the groups traveling to New Orleans will stay at a volunteer center at First UU Church in New Orleans. They will be assigned to work with one of 40 community partners working with the UUSC. "There is still a great need even two years out from the storm," said Powell. "There's enough work to accommodate as many people as want to volunteer."

Quo Vadis Breaux, Gulf Coast response coordinator for the UUSC, meets volunteers in New Orleans. She helps volunteers become oriented and paired up with a community group.

Volunteers are not currently being placed in Mississippi. That volunteer program ended in June. People who want to volunteer in Mississippi can directly contact social service groups working there.

The UUSC Gulf Coast Volunteer Program grew out of the Hurricane Relief and Social Justice Project of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, which formed the program shortly after Hurricane Katrina. All prospective volunteers are asked now to contact Powell at UUSC in Cambridge, rather than the Baton Rouge church.

For information email uukatrina@uusc.org or go to uusc.org for volunteer information.

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