Meantime, across town, students from the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University, and dozens of other colleges painted, laid tile, and nailed weatherboards on older homes, pulling them back from ruin. And in nearby St. Bernard Parish, 600 professionals gathered by United Jewish Communities plan to transform a gutted Catholic school into a community center.
Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans remains a prime destination for thousands of out-of-state volunteers willing to take a break from their own lives to help rebuild the city — never more so than during spring break.
Here, at least, Katrina fatigue has not yet settled in, say managers of major church and community groups that consume millions of volunteer hours as they build and repair thousands of homes.
“We’re completely maxed out,” said Paul Cook, senior project coordinator for Catholic Charities’ Operation Helping Hands. Similar reports come from other major rebuilding nonprofit groups: the St. Bernard Project, Habitat for Humanity, the United Methodist Church’s Southeast Louisiana Disaster Recovery Center, the Presbyterian-affiliated Project RHINO and others.
But during off-peak months — in late autumn and during the hottest weeks of summer, for example — managers said the flow of helpers tapers off.
As a result, some like Dale Kimball, manager of the huge Methodist-affiliated rebuilding operation, regularly make distant recruiting swings. Kimball said his PowerPoint demonstration, documenting post-Katrina New Orleans and the continuing need for volunteers, continues to yield a fresh harvest of newcomers. “I don’t know any contractor doing as many jobs at one time as we do — and we’re a nonprofit,” Kimball said. “And we do it with 300 new employees every Monday.”
Many managers report that mixed with first-time college students is a high proportion of volunteers — students and other adults — returning for their second or third work tour.
Among the teams was a group from Pilgrim Church in Sherborn, Mass., on its fourth trip to New Orleans, working with St. Charles Avenue Church.
Kimball estimates that his volunteers, valued at $18.50 per hour, a rate set by the federal government, have offered more than $48 million in free labor so far.
That’s part of his recruiting pitch, Kimball said. “We make sure the volunteers understand — there’s no recovery without them.”