Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

Sometimes, it’s worth the Gambel.

Although YRNO Executive Director Will Stoudt and I both doubted we could win the Gambel Giveaway contest when we first heard about it, we ultimately decided we had nothing to lose and submitted an entry.  That turned out to be a wise decision when YRNO was selected as one of five finalists, and then more than 600 Facebook friends expressed their “like” for us, bringing victory and a $5,000 public relations contract with Gambel Communications.  Moral of the story: NEVER DOUBT THE YRNO NATION!  Will and I are true “publicity hounds,” and we can’t wait to witness what magic Gambel has in store for us!

This was a fun week at YRNO, as we had a quartet from Harvard Business School on hand to help us formulate a growth strategy. For their first stop on a trip with MBAs Across America, Ariel Avila, Meghan Sherlock, Namrata Bhattacharya and Ryan Eskridge visited our properties, interviewed staff and reviewed our records before making their recommendations. After work, they also made sure to enjoy all New Orleans has to offer, and I joined them for excursions to Preservation Hall, Frenchmen, Bourbon and Gold Mine. Best of all, I got my picture taken with them so when they’re big shots, I can tell everyone “I knew them when…”

The latest Tulane VISTA service project also merits mention this month, because it was my favorite one yet.  Our crew joined other AmeriCorps groups in New Orleans to participate in Evacuteer’s annual city assisted evacuation drill.  We started our day at the Central City Evacuspot, where we were registered and then taken by bus to the Union Passenger Terminal.  There we were processed as if we were actually being evacuated in advance of an approaching hurricane!  Next, we went to the airport and repeated the process with FEMA and military officials on hand.  It was pretty exciting, and we got a free lunch to boot.  I can only imagine the work it takes to coordinate all those people!

Since I’ve often mentioned my own role as a volunteer coordinator in these reports, I thought I’d take the rest of this post to describe what that entails at YRNO.

We get many requests to volunteer—mostly via e-mail—from locals and out-of-towners, individuals and groups.  A large percentage of the locals are students needing to fulfill required service hours.  Most of those from elsewhere are either groups of students on break or families on vacation, who want to combine New Orleans merriment with a volunteer experience.  I relate to the out-of-towners especially well, because that’s what I was when I started volunteering here, albeit as an individual.  Regardless, I respond to the initial requests with standard information about volunteering at YRNO.

Beyond the work, we also seek funding from our volunteers, particularly the out-of-towners.  It’s an important part of keeping YRNO sustainable.  We have a bunkhouse, and if groups want to stay there, we simply bill them as the means of generating funds.  It’s good for us and it’s good for them, because they save money on a hotel.  I write up a bunkhouse contract and let them know when payments are due.  If they have other accommodations, we just solicit a donation—usually of an undefined amount, although we do have a suggested donation if asked.  Either way, a donation is not mandatory, but highly appreciated.  For less skilled or younger folks, a donation may actually be more helpful to YRNO than their volunteer work.

YRNO can only handle a limited number volunteers at a time, so scheduling them to assure we don’t have too many on a given day is also my responsibility.  During peak seasons—especially in March—I do turn away a lot of people.  I usually refer them elsewhere, but in the highly sought-after spring break time frame, I know that all the rebuilding organizations in New Orleans are in the same boat.  For better or worse, there are just more people who want to volunteer than can be accommodated, which is simultaneously heartwarming and frustrating.  Anyway, our volunteer calendar is online for anyone to view.  Once volunteers are booked, there’s typically quite a bit of e-mailing back and forth in the days and weeks before they’re scheduled, so they’ll know when and where to go.

When a volunteer group arrives, the most fun part of my job begins.  I go to the construction site to greet them and give an orientation about YRNO.  I schmooze with them, take pictures for our blog and Facebook page, and generally live vicariously through them since being a VISTA means I’m no longer tasked with the direct service of doing construction work.  (I still sneak some in though, particularly when Tulane student-athletes are on site!)  I also have to make sure volunteers submit waivers to us for liability reasons.  Included on those forms are e-mail addresses, which I enter into our database back in the office so I can send a thank you message and eventually keep them updated on YRNO’s work via a quarterly newsletter.

I hope all this has given you an idea of what it’s like to have the vital job of volunteer coordinator! Oh, and before I go, I invite you to read this profile on YRNO’s newest staff member, a fellow Saints fan.

WHO DAT!

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This entry was posted on June 21, 2014 by in VISTA Field Reports, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.

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