Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Orleans - a half a year after Katrina

By Larry Deckel
Director of Programs
L.A. Works

On February 16th – 18th I traveled to Louisiana as a representative of Hands on Network to consult with Volunteer Baton Rouge on starting up their hands-on programming as "Hands on Baton Rouge." The folks in Baton Rouge were wonderful in every way, and treated me to the Southern hospitality I've missed since leaving Louisiana in the late 70s. They are very enthusiastic in carrying on the work of the network, and appreciated my sharing with them the remarkable work our Project Leaders and volunteers have been doing here at L.A. Works.

I took advantage of the trip to trek over to New Orleans, to get a first-hand look at how the city is doing, nearly six months after Hurricane Katrina.

What I saw in New Orleans left me emotionally exhausted, and broke my heart. Vast sections of the city have been rendered uninhabitable. The once vibrant crescent city now has an uneasy silence, as entire districts have taken on characteristics of a ghost town. While I was initially struck by the site of individual houses, roofs blown off, shuttered windows and doors, trees toppled upon them, refuse and trash littering their yards — the full enormity of the situation sank in as I saw entire blocks, streets, and neighborhoods destroyed. While many structures still stand, a faint yellow line representing the high water mark tells the story of a city held captive underwater. Everything in these homes was destroyed. Furniture, appliances, clothing, decor, paintings, photos — even the walls themselves, were ravaged by the floodwaters that rushed in as the levees broke. As I drove through these devastated neighborhoods, I was amazed to find that even six months later, electricity was still unavailable; traffic lights weren't in operation, and few residents had returned — there was so little to return to. You couldn't go "home" — as your home was now something you couldn't live in. A few industrious folks have set up RVs and trailers in the front yards, but most simply don't know where or how to start. Many will never return.

The city faces enormous challenges in reviving itself. It's unclear whether neighborhoods will be mowed down and deserted, or how or when neighborhoods that choose to revive themselves will do so. The pictures shown on this page cannot convey the overall impact of damage this catastrophic.

I visited a few tent cities that are currently housing workers and volunteers who are engaged in the Herculean task of clearing the damaged homes. Ben Brubaker, a Volunteer Coordinator for Emergency Communities has set up the "Made with Love Cafe" a volunteer operation feeding anyone who is hungry each day, and providing an outlet for clothing, first-aid and other necessities in the nearly leveled St. Bernard Parish adjacent to New Orleans. They are looking for volunteers who can bring their own tents and assist with their delivery of services. It was bone-chilling cold the day I visited, but these great volunteers were delivery nutritious hot meals to anyone with a need. If you'd like to donate, or volunteer, please visit their website at www.emergencycommunities.org/

As many of you know, the difficulty in volunteering in New Orleans has been a lack of housing for volunteers. Living in a tent city is not easy! Now that it's clear that volunteers will be needed in the Gulf Region for many, many months to come, the Hands on Network is facilitating the start-up of "Hands on New Orleans." I visited with the small, devoted staff there who are currently engaged in building bunk beds at the First Street United Method Church to house volunteers each week who will assist with rebuilding efforts. If you're interested in going to New Orleans to lend your support, they will be ready to begin housing and feeding volunteers (who will have to arrange their own travel expenses) in April.

The majority of the work that volunteers will be doing in New Orleans is mucking and mold abatement of houses. This is grueling, rigorous work, and not for the faint of heart. Volunteers will be gutting the damaged interiors of houses, emptying them of possessions and knocking out plaster or drywall to take the house back down to the frame. Once the house is down to its frame, volunteers will treat the remaining wood to remove and prevent regrowth of the mold that has formed. While this is hard physical work, it is immensely satisfying and a good way to gain a sense of instant results. Talk about "Hands On." Once a house has been 'gutted' in this manner, residents can begin the rebuilding process. It's a start! In addition to this, HONO will be setting up projects to benefit the community including tutoring and mentoring in local schools, working at distribution centers, cooking free meals for community members, etc.

If you are interested in getting scheduled for a week's service in New Orleans, please contact Sara Schnitzer, Volunteer Coordinator, Hands On New Orleans — 1-800-977-5589 or email
volunteerinquiry-neworleans@handsonnetwork.org . Let her know you are part of L.A. Works and would like more information, and to schedule yourself for a week in April or beyond. They are open to the participation of groups and/or individuals.

What happened in New Orleans is a tragedy that will affect that city for many years to come. Tourism is making a slow recovery in the French Quarter, and Mardi Gras' persistent spirit is creating the strange spectacle of public partying and parades in the higher elevations, while the surrounding lowlands near the Lake and in the lower ninth ward echo in grim stillness. What can I say — it's New Orleans.

While it's no longer in the news here in Los Angeles – the generosity of volunteers will play a major part in the city's recovery efforts. For those of you with the resources and time to travel to New Orleans, they will heartily welcome your support. If you're unable to go, but would like to send funds to assist with our volunteer mobilization efforts, please go to: www.handsonnetwork.org/donate/form and click on the donation link for the Hurricane Volunteer Mobilization Fund.

Hot Project of the Week - Adopt a Highway - February 25

A clean ocean starts with clean streets and sidewalks. That's why we meet once a month to clean up a stretch of Lincoln Blvd in Marina Del Rey.

Come out and meet new people as you get some exercise and do rewarding volunteer work that will have a lasting effect on the health of the bay.

There's a lot of litter out there on Lincoln - come help us keep it out of the storm drain and out of the Santa Monica Bay. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age.

Click here to sign up!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

New Project! Gardening at Historical Home

Here's a great new project for volunteers with a green thumb who live in the S. Pasadena / Highland Park area! Enjoy the nice weather!

Volunteers are needed to work in the shady, waterwise garden which surrounds the 100-year-old home of Charles Lummis. The garden is in need of maintenance, and volunteers would be guided by three experienced gardeners who have worked here for many years.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own small gardening tools and gloves, though some will be available onsite if you do not have any to bring.

Volunteers must be at least 8 years of age. Volunteers who are 8-14 must be accompanied by a parent.

This project will take place on the 2nd Sunday of every month and will start on March 12th. Click here to sign up!

Friday, February 03, 2006

L.A. Works Volunteers invited to free Dr. Phil Tapings

L.A. Works Volunteers can get free tickets to taping of the Dr. Phil Show.

If you'd like free tix, contact:
Wendell Hubbard at Wendell_Hubbard@paramount.com or 323-956-3319. Just tell him you're with L.A. Works. Bring as many guests as you'd like as they like to book folks in groups.

Here's the details:

Dr. Phil tapes at Paramount Pictures. The Audience entrance is located at 860 N. Gower in Hollywood California.

Dr. Phil tapes two shows a day, Tuesday through Thursday. Given availability, your group can choose which time they would like to attend.

A Show:
Arrive no later than 8 am
Plan on being with us until around 12 p.m.

B Show:
Arrive no later than 10 a.m.
Plan on being with us until around 3 p.m.

*You may bring snacks. Please make sure everything remaining is disposable (no food or beverages are allowed in the studio).

Dress Code:
Please do not wear white, beige, jeans, hats, uniforms or identical clothing. The studio is extremely air conditioned, so we suggest that you dress warmly. We find that women are most comfortable in a pantsuit or a blazer.

Security Check and Metal Detector:
No electronics, including cell phone’s, pagers, palm pilots, and cameras will be allowed into the studio. Please leave those items in addition to any books, magazines or notebooks in your car.

Special Assistance:
*Wheelchairs, hearing devices or other special needs.
So that we can fully accommodate your group, please inform us of any special needs that your guests may have prior to attending the show.

All members of Dr. Phil’s studio audience must be over the age of 18years old and have a valid Photo ID.