Help me help everyone.
September 21, 2005 8:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm a New Orleans resident who's going home the second they let me. I want more than anything to be as helpful as possible in rebuilding the city. What is the city going to need?

I'm a fairly young, very small female. I'm a certified teacher and have done simple, low-wage jobs most of my life. I have a place to stay when I go back to town if my house is uninhabitable, but I know for a fact that my car was destroyed. I speak French and Indonesian. What would be helpful to the city at this time? What do I need to learn or who can I sign up with? Furthermore, who can I sign up with that will pay me? I've lost my job for the time being and am expecting to at least have to replace floors and some furniture before even worrying about a car.

Furthermore, my friends and I have considered starting a charity with some stickers, tshirts, etc that we've come up with in exile. How difficult is it to run a charity? Where do we even start? Is this feasible while most of us are poor and homeless? How do we get the money to where it needs to go? New Orleans has always been horribly corrupt and I know this isn't going to change.

Any help would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.
posted by honeydew to Society & Culture (12 answers total)
What is the city going to need? As in things? Canned goods. Tools. Plywood. Used appliances and furniture. Lots of really basic things for temporary fixing and getting back to some normal sort of life.

I don't know offhand who will pay you to do recovery work right now, but I'm pretty certain there are going to be reconstruction jobs. If you had a chauffeur's license you could probably drive a truck and do a lot of delivery-type work.

A charity isn't exceptionally hard to start, but you'll need a lawyer to get incorporated and get the 501(c)(3) application in properly. I'd be more worried about the practical matters, though. A non-monetary charity might be even more effective -- a Goodwill-style furniture operation, for instance.

Corruption can be worked around. If you're fully in control of the money, it isn't going to be misappropriated by an agency. Don't be in the giving-out-money business, though, since you're inexperienced and you don't have the time or people (you're all victims too!) to police who gets it and how it's spent.
posted by dhartung at 10:05 PM on September 21, 2005

New Orleans will need patience more than anything. Be prepared for long lines and frustration everywhere you go. The city is a long way from fine and it will probably get worse before it gets better.

Having said that, the best thing you can do to help the city come back is maintain the wacky, goofy lifestyles that New Orleans is famous for. Patronize the restaurants (or learn how to cook) and keep the eatin' going. Integrate yourself into as many communities as you can. Drink. Be merry.

I'm north of Baton Rouge, but if I can help with anything, email me.
posted by ColdChef at 10:58 PM on September 21, 2005

If you want to help with the actual reconstruction you might try contracting FEMA directly and ask them to point you to companies that will be doing actual reconstruction work. When you get back there will probably be lots of 'help wanted' signs, I bet. Being small, I guess heavy manual labor is out, but they may need administrators as well.
posted by delmoi at 1:24 AM on September 22, 2005

I know people are commuting by bus from here in Lafayette to work for FEMA cleaning up the streets. It doesn't look too tough.
Where are you? If you're near here, come by the Cajundome and I can brainstorm with you and introduce you to people who are helping. They'd have good input on your charity idea. Offhand I'd say one thing you could produce right now would be a sheet of cleanup tips and resources. Like, how do I know if my floors need to be replaced, my appliances, how do I replace sheetrock, and so on. Or you could coordinate volunteer teams to help do down-and-dirty home cleanups, i.e., raking or hosing out the mud, etc. Or start a volunteer daycare. That's an important thing here. I hesitate to suggest that, though, because it seems like that's what 90% of the volunteers I see want to do.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:38 AM on September 22, 2005

True 501(c)3 charities are a huge pain in the ass, more ongoing paperwork than you want to deal with. I'd strongly suggest partnering with someone who has business experience if you're set on this route.
posted by mkultra at 8:53 AM on September 22, 2005

It sounds like your experience would suit you to helping set up emergency daycare or even some sort of K-12 school. Although I'm sure the authorities will eventually set up regular K-12 school, setting up a temporary, volunteer endeavour that uses distance learning materials would probably help restore a sense of normalcy to kids. From what I've read up here in Canada, NOLA schools were in dire straits before all this, so perhaps you can help put in a good foundation.
posted by acoutu at 9:35 AM on September 22, 2005

The school idea sounds absolutely fantastic - and maybe even feasible, considering what I have available. I've taught in nola schools and they were awful, but I know how they work. Thanks.

FEMA has proven utterly useless thus far. They have been downright cruel at times. Some individual FEMA workers have been just fantastic but they spent most of their time apologizing for what little aid I was going to get and the unrealistic goals that aren't going to happen.

My real question: what skills should I try to pick up? What would be useful to know how to do?
posted by honeydew at 10:49 AM on September 22, 2005

Well, do you want to be a teacher? What skills would you need to work in the area that interests you? Although I'm sure your goal is not to be self-serving, you may find the most reward in working in an area that interests you and moves you along the path toward an important goal.
posted by acoutu at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2005

Be flexible. Predicting the near future is impossible.

Families with children may not return in large numbers. People with tenuous ties to the region may not return. Local businesses may not have a customer base to warrant hiring outside the owners' families.

The only certainty is that those who do return will eat, sleep and shit.
posted by mischief at 11:44 AM on September 22, 2005

My real question: what skills should I try to pick up? What would be useful to know how to do?

It wouldn't hurt to learn how to cook meals for large groups of people. Or efficient dishwashing skills.

Also, if you can get trained in some basic first aid and counseling (usually available through the Red Cross), you become a more valuable member of a community.

Here are the skills that I've had to learn since Katrina that I find value in:
* How to work a chainsaw.
* How to create a makeshift air compressor using hoses, duct tape and a truck exhaust.
* How to set a bone (really)
* The proper way to carry an unconscious body (that is still alive)
* I've always been handy with a map, but now my orienteering skills border on the Lewis and Clark.
* Cutting through governmental red tape.

One of the best skills I've been able to cultivate is to talk to everyone I see. You never know who needs resources and who has resources until you ask. Then, the magic comes when you put these two together.

You seem like a nice person who genuinely wants to help people. My best advise is to be cautious to those who would take advantage of you. Again, anything I can do to help you, don't hesitate to ask.
posted by ColdChef at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

You can sign up through FEMA or the Red Cross, maybe Habitat for Humanity.
posted by theora55 at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2005

Here is a list of various unaffiliated, locally-led non-profits helping in the southeastern US. I'm unsure of the state law in Louisiana, but usually a 501c3 can fiscally sponsor new organizations, or temporary projects that help fulfill their missions.

Any of these, or other non-profit 501c3's may take you on, conferring their tax exemptions onto your project--it's a good way to begin working on your project, while you begin to learn the legal and financial skills you'll need.

at risk of self-link, one example is an Aceh Adopt a School program for the devastated communities in politically beleaguered Aceh. It's sponsored by a non-profit i work for.

good luck! see you down there!
posted by eustatic at 10:38 AM on October 1, 2005

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