Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

Sorry I haven’t posted here in a while, but sometimes “stuff” happens. I’m definitely motivated by some of the great field reports my fellow Tulane VISTAs have filed recently. They are some smart and passionate young people and I’m so honored to be in their company.

Anyway, some good “stuff” has been happening at YRNO in the last two months. Undoubtedly, the best news was that we will receive more than $44,000 as a result of our entries in the Super Service Challenge.  The largest chunk comes courtesy of two videos submitted for volunteers from Dillard University, so we can’t thank them enough.  I was on hand for the big announcement at Rock N Bowl, along with YRNO Executive Director Will Stoudt and staff members Abby Hall and Prince Holmes.  I capped off the night by crushing them on the lanes, countering Prince’s trash talk with my stone cold, 10-pin smoothness! (Lest I forget, free eats!)

We’ve had a lot of volunteers come through since my last field report, during the holidays and since.  Most recently, we had a group of fellow New Yorkers from Sid Jacobson JCC lending many helping hands. The two previous Saturdays, we had college groups from Tulane and Xavier. In between, a crew of Tulane volleyball players joined me and my VISTA colleague Erin Ricketts volunteering at our Alvar Street side project, generating some much appreciated publicity on the athletic department web site. And going back even further, we had more local college students from Tulane, Loyola, Xavier and Dillard—as well as high school students from St. Augustine—come to our Mid-City rebuild site to take part in a neighborhood cleanup honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Earlier in January, YRNO dedicated a week’s worth of volunteer hours to Tulane’s Cowen Service Challenge.  Thanks to groups from the University of South Dakota, Wheeling Jesuit University, Indiana University and the friends and family of AmeriCorps alum and birthday girl Nadia Payne, that turned out to be 1,086 hours!  The South Dakota group was the first to stay in the YRNO bunkhouse since I became a VISTA, and the others all made generous donations, especially appreciated in a time of need, as will be explained shortly.

YRNO bought a new property on 10th Street in Lakeview, and the Wheeling Jesuit and Nadia Payne groups were the first to get working on it, installing sheetrock.  And on the subject of property, I used my not-yet-dead research skills to find the previous owners of one of our South Salcedo Street houses so we could get a quit claim signed.  That was good news in terms of YRNO being able to sell the house (no one else was able to find them before I “did my thing”), but it was a little rough to see the other side of foreclosure.  Buying a foreclosed home means you now own something that was taken away from someone else, so that wasn’t a lot of fun to witness.

Also not very fun was the fact that our South Salcedo work site was burglarized, with thousands of dollars worth of tools taken from a trailer.  My faith in humanity was somewhat shaken by the thought of someone stealing from a non-profit, but fortunately, it was restored soon after by an outpouring of support once news of the theft spread.  Between cash donations and in-kind donations of tools, everything turned out fine.  We got the word out via our web site, newsletter list and social media, but the biggest thanks go to Bill Capo of WWL-TV and Jim McCutcheon of WWL radio.  Bill did a story on the burglary and Jim cut a public service announcement for us. We couldn’t have gotten nearly the response without them.

Speaking of media friends, I’d like to express my gratitude to the New York Times, Des  Moines Register, Nonprofit Quarterly, Missoula Independent, Shreveport Times and Alexandria Town Talk for publicizing the recent announcement that some AmeriCorps members will be subject to a health care tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare).  Particularly given the financial sacrifice we make to serve, I find it hard to believe that members of a federal service program will be required to pay a federally-mandated penalty. However, I did recently discuss the issue with Mary Strasser and her soon-to-be successor Erin Dahlin at CNCS, and hopefully the situation can be rectified soon. Peace Corps members are exempt from the penalty, so why not us?

Last and I sadly have to admit least, the Saints season did not end with the much sought after trophy, although my Superdome winning streak remains intact. Since I do have to figure out a way to end with my tag line, I’d like to thank the folks at Project Homecoming for a great time at their gala this month and direct you to the logo on my fedora as I hung out with my good pal Jim Coningsby.




This entry was posted on February 25, 2014 by in VISTA Field Reports, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.



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