Monday, February 26, 2007

Spring Break Volunteerism

Students from around the country are heading for New Orleans or elsewhere in the Gulf Coast for spring break in March. What many will find in NOLA is a city that's running out of structurally-sound houses to gut and many neighborhoods already been cleared of debris.

I like to remind people when I give presentations about New Orleans: "The government is going to gut your house." The many tens of thousands of houses gutted around the city with private resources, volunteerism, and neighbor helping neighbor is a great story that deserves more celebration than what it gets.

Anyway, it looks to me like the Age of Gutting has passed its peak. I think instead we're entering an Age of Materials. Lots of debris was taken out of the city. Now there's a growing need to bring in lots more tools and materials for rebuilding.

In the rebuilding, we're also entering an Age of Training and Knowledge. There's a growing need for skilled labor (lots of it!) to perform the physical rebuilding, as well as the organizational skills to manage rebuilding at the most local level. There's also a growing need for volunteers who can help connect tangible rebuilding to the intangible. Like someone who can talk in plain language about the design of a house or the mortgage/insurance issues of a house, in addition to the actual physical rebuilding of a house.

I see a growing need for teachable people, even it's only on a temporary basis, because they're so much work to do and such a variety of skills required.

I see a need for novices who have limited experience with construction and manual labor, but know how to listen, read, learn by doing, ask questions, and generally be resourceful in finding the people and information they need to get the job done.

Or people who can take their general knowledge of standard computer software (e.g., Word, Excel) and apply them to enhance the group efforts of volunteers.

Or people who are comfortable setting up and/or using new technology-driven devices and services that didn't exist 10 years ago.

For New Orleans, the arrival of students is happening at just the right time.


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