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Announcing the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Program
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Management of a joint UUA-UUSC program that has placed some 2,000 volunteers in Louisiana and Mississippi to help with rebuilding and recovery efforts after the 2005 hurricanes is being transferred to local leadership.
The Unitarian Universalist Association, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and a coalition of New Orleans UU churches (known as the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists) announced that the volunteer program will be stewarded by the coalition's New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Program. The volunteer program has been the most successful and extensive in the history of the UU denomination.
Reverend Jim VanderWeele of Community Church in New Orleans said, "Given how immersed we all were in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our own congregations, if I had been told at the last [UUA General Assembly] that by the next one, we would be taking over the management of the volunteer program, I would have said, ‘No way!' But here we are, ready and eager to take the wheel!"
According to Presidents Bill Sinkford (UUA) and Charlie Clements (UUSC), there will be a celebration at UUA General Assembly 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to mark the change in management. At that time, a check for more than $125,000 for the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Program will be passed to New Orleans native Quo Vadis Breaux, who has managed the program locally for UUSC for the past year. Breaux will serve as the executive director of the program.
According to Breaux, "The Rebirth Volunteer Program provides service opportunities for volunteers from the United States and beyond. Volunteers come to give, as well as to find that they have received the gifts of gratitude, knowledge, and the fellowship of standing in solidarity with residents and other volunteers."
supervised the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Volunteer Program, said, "While having this historic volunteer effort as an extension of our JustWorks Program has been great for UUSC, it is also satisfying to watch it grow into its own identity. Every volunteer leaves New Orleans a different person and hopefully equipped with a basic understanding of how race, gender, and class have contributed to the problems in the New Orleans area. We are equipping them to be effective advocates for the Gulf when they return to their own communities."
Funded generously by the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund and by contributions from UU congregations and individuals across the country, the program began by using volunteers for cleaning up debris and stripping homes of moldy interiors to save them from demolition. It was originally managed by the Baton Rouge UU church at a time when it was virtually impossible to house volunteers or even many residents in New Orleans.
Important roles for volunteers remain. "It may surprise folks from around the country, but there is still an enormous need for volunteers, even nearly three years after Katrina," said Reverend Melanie Morel-Ensminger of First Unitarian Church in New Orleans. "Some experts predict that it may take as much as a generation for full recovery to take place. We've learned, a little painfully, that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint."
At the volunteer center, hundreds of volunteers have had the privilege of sharing home-cooked meals by Jyaphia Cristos-Rogers (or her sister) as a bonus to the discussions she leads about race, gender, and class. Those volunteers will be thrilled to learn that both Cristos-Rogers's trainings and cooking will continue as integral parts of the Rebirth Program. Cristos-Rogers said, "When you come to New Orleans to help rebuild, you take your place at the table and in our hearts. You are family, invited into a relationship of solidarity. It starts with one visit, but the connections last much longer. Together we are bending the arc of Gulf Coast recovery toward justice."
In addition to the hospitality offered at the volunteer center, which is housed at First UU Church, accommodations are now available for volunteers at Community Church and other facilities around the city.
Clements pledged that UUSC will continue to promote and recruit for the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Program through its website, publications, and Outreach and Mobilization Department. He added, "In the near future, donors will be able to give directly from our website just as easily as prospective participants can read inspiring stories or see film clips about how the volunteer experience has changed lives."
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For more information about individual or group volunteer opportunities, please e-mail Quo Vadis Gex Breaux and visit the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists website. During business hours, interested parties can call (504) 866-4170.