Friday, July 14, 2006

Volunteer Joins Emergency Communities and Common Ground Collective to Help Residents in Arabi and the Ninth Ward of New Orleans

Excerpt from:
Hard Work In the Big Easy:
Vacationers Donate Time To Help Katrina Victims


By Eric Patel
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 9, 2006
Yes, the Big Easy has become a lot harder to visit, especially if, like a growing number of travelers, you're looking to volunteer in a city severely damaged and surprisingly unhealed since Hurricane Katrina's devastation last August. It's a city that even has its own version of refugee camps. Within hours of touching down, I found myself ladling out scrambled eggs to a long line of residents at a makeshift "cafe" under a tent set up by aging hippies to feed homeless locals.

Even a cursory tour around New Orleans confirms the worst you've heard. The Lower Ninth Ward -- ground zero for the worst levee break -- is a virtually untouched, surreal landscape: splintered houses lying on cars, cars in trees, trees on houses, moldy rubble everywhere. In spring, seven months after the event, the entire area was silent -- no rumble of bulldozers, no excavators, no dump trucks.

In that bleak landscape, dozens of volunteer organizations have come to help -- getting people food, water or supplies or helping them reinhabit their homes and neighborhoods. They offer hope to locals and a blend of hard work, challenge and even adventure to volunteer vacationers.

During a 10-day trip here, I worked with two grass-roots nonprofit groups. The first, New York-based Emergency Communities, fed residents in the disaster zone of Arabi, a few miles east of the French Quarter (that site has since closed, although the group has operations in other areas in the same parish). The second, Common Ground Collective of New Orleans, helps homeowners in the impoverished Ninth Ward get back into their flood-destroyed homes and provides a variety of other services. Both are run on a shoestring and are fueled by a diverse and seemingly endless supply of volunteers.

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