National Volunteer Conference Highlighting New Orleans Experience

New Orleans, La. – The White House is sending Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Joshua DuBois, executive director of the administration's Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It's convened by the Points of Light Institute formed more than 20 years ago by former President George H.W. Bush. Institute Chief Executive Officer Michelle Nunn says New Orleans has a lot to offer the organization.

"In the wake of great disaster over the last six years we've seen all sorts of manmade and natural disasters hit the Gulf region and it's been I think it's been an extraordinary story not only of tragedy but of also of resiliency and of citizen action. We've had, you know., more than a million volunteers descend upon the Gulf."

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu participated in a weekend volunteer effort under his Fight the Blight campaign by helping to clean up the St. Roch Playground. As a conference host, he says he'll advise other groups what the city has learned about volunteerism.

"You can't do anything by yourself. You really have to develop partnerships. So it's government, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits, neighborhoods, all of those kinds. When we come together as a unit we get really great stuff done. When you try to do it by yourself or you don't have enough resources it's not gonna happen. But the most important thing is - something just my mom taught me - the more you give the more you get. And that's a great lesson for all of us to learn."

A few hours after Landrieu's volunteer event wrapped up, another group met in New Orleans East. Molly Butler was celebrating getting back in her house damaged by Hurricane Katrina flooding. She says it was something that would not have happened without volunteers coordinated by the St. Bernard Project.

"I had federal employees come. I had people from New York, New Jersey, Washington. I had people - I even had some people cam from Canada came. And everybody was just nice. Everybody was fantastic. I enjoyed meeting all of them and it was a pleasure. And I thank God for those people because without those people a lot of us would still be struggling."

One of those attending the homecoming was Michael Farnum, a member of Veterans Corps of Seattle, Washington. He advised the St. Bernard Project on its new Veterans Corps program modeled after Americorps. Farnum says his group helps out with small home projects, but the need in New Orleans is striking.

"We have some volunteers who are doing Habitat for Humanity stuff in Washington state but nothing on this scale. This is really this is awesome."

St. Bernard Project founders Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney started the organization in the summer of 2006, after they saw the region's devastation. They quit their jobs and started from scratch. Since then, they've managed to attract 34-thousand volunteers from all 50 states and 30 countries. And while he worries that volunteer fatigue could set in, especially when volunteers are recruited in areas slammed by tornadoes this year - he hasn't seen any reduction yet.

"The key is really going to be creating awareness. Showing, just like in Louisiana, that the folks are good people, there's work to be done but most importantly that the problems are solvable. And I'm convinced that if the American public knows those three things people will come in droves to rebuild America."

Some of those who came to help Mrs. Butler get back home waited patiently in the hot sun as she accepted gifts from volunteers and held a pair of scissors to the ribbon draped across her front porch.

"wanna come cut the ribbon? All right. Welcome home."
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming in New Orleans East.