A family trip to volunteer in New Orleans?
September 22, 2007 5:06 AM   Subscribe

My immediate family is considering making our holidays vacation a trip to New Orleans to do volunteer work, excavating houses, etc. Problem #1: We have no idea where to start.

Short story is this: this year, it's my turn to pick where we go for the holidays. (We're upper-middle-class, generally speaking, 48 continental states is usually fine, outside the US mainland probably wouldn't be. I'm the oldest of three children, five-member nuclear family.) I had the idea that it would be a really, really interesting and worthwhile experience to donate our time as a family volunteering in New Orleans - I spent my spring break doing such, and was blown away by the experience. Only problem is, I have NO idea what the next step is. What's the best volunteer group to register as volunteers with for a short period of time (i.e. 2-5 days)? Anyone know of any families that did things along this line? Any tips we should know? Any things in New Orleans that we'd enjoy as a family during the evenings? Is this even feasible?
posted by Ash3000 to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Many volunteer organizations take only large groups (I've been working with PDA. I know for a fact, though, that New Orleans Habitat for Humanity will take individual or family volunteers for a few days. I think they have accommodations, or you can, say, stay in a French Quarter hotel.

The French Quarter is not just Bourbon St, of course, and fun family things in the evenings could include the Aquarium and live music, as well as other tourist things in other parts of the city.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:39 AM on September 22, 2007

try http://www.commongroundrelief.org/

i think this is a good idea provided the rest of your family gets as passionate about the volunteering as you did. there is nothing quite as distasteful as 'do-gooders' who have superiority complexes.
posted by ms.jones at 5:44 AM on September 22, 2007

First, let me thank you for thinking of such a selfless, sharing, interesting way to vacation. Wish more people would follow your example!

That said, have you considered volunteering outside New Orleans, because that's certainly not the only city that suffered from Katrina's wrath. The Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Pascagoula areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast were practically wiped off the map, not just flooded like New Orleans. I'm not negating damage in the Big Easy -- I'm just saying lots of Americans saw ONLY video of New Orleans and never knew other cities suffered horribly. Anyway, those towns still need LOTS of help. Emailing the Sun Herald newspaper of Biloxi/Gulfport might get you info on who's working on projects, who's coming to help -- and rebuilding goes on and on.

As earlier poster said, check with Habitat for Humanity. But also ask the NO chamber of commerce OR Times-Picayune newspaper; they may be helpful. A few months back, I Googled churches...Katrina...rebuilding (and other terms) and found church groups from around the U.S. periodically send teams to New Orleans and Mississippi on rebuilding missions. You might try that. Good luck and THANKS!
posted by Smalltown Girl at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2007

Volunteer New Orleans was designed for you. Thanks for thinking of us!
posted by ajr at 6:40 AM on September 22, 2007

Emergency Communities is a very cool organization that takes short-term volunteers to work in community centers in and around NOLA.
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:54 AM on September 22, 2007

I did work for, as ms.jones mentioned, Common Ground a couple of years ago. It was one of the best experiences of my life. At that time, we were gutting houses to be rebuilt, and it was hard, nasty, dirty, sweaty labor, but I savoured every minute of it, and all the amazing people just made it even better.

Give Common Ground a call and see where they need you.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:42 AM on September 22, 2007

Hey, thank you for thinking of us. This is totally feasible.

My kid sister came down this summer and had a wonderful experience volunteering with Habitat in St. Bernard Parish (~20 minutes from my house in New Orleans). My experience was that they were very together and appreciated people coming even for a day or two -- she worked for 5 days, and they offered her a number of different projects including gutting, building, and distributing clothing and other supplies. She was by herself, but worked with large school and church groups, families, and some other lone stragglers; it was a really nice mix of folks.

Their website has a lot of information about the projects they're doing, and you can sign up to work on a specific site on specific days. If you have people under 18 in your family, this would be a good option; they accept volunteers as young as, I think, 15 or so, with some restrictions.

I have also heard good things about HandsOn New Orleans, although they do not accept volunteers under 18.
posted by Siobhan at 7:01 PM on September 23, 2007

personally, unless they have changed a lot in the past year, i would NOT recommend Common Ground for a family. i think they are doing great work and their hearts are mainly in the right place, but it is somewhat disorganized and probably more political than you want to get tied up in. plus it is run by college age kids with only handed-down knowledge, basically who ever has been there the longest gets the jobs. it is much more of a squatter/punk/hippy atmosphere than most people would find acceptable.
i enjoyed my time there though. the church group i went with and a family we made friends with did not and we actually switched to volunteer with another group after a couple of days at Common Ground.
great idea though in any case!
posted by annoyance at 8:48 AM on September 24, 2007

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