Alicia Reding 4/26/07 34:22 Volunteer Project Paper Volunteers of America, North Louisiana "We will go wherever we are needed and do whatever comes to hand." ~ Ballington Booth, co-founder 1896 The above quote essentially sums up what it means to be a volunteer. Volunteering is a way to lend a helping hand as well as an open heart to communities and people in need. It is not only a way to give back to your community or other neighborhoods in need, but it is also an important way to build character and self-esteem in yourself. As well as the terrific learning experience that comes along with volunteering I think the best part is by far the satisfaction that comes from knowing how you have positively impacted another’s life. After traveling to Louisiana to help with Hurricane Katrina efforts I know I came back with an experience I will never forget. Part 1 A. I started my volunteer work with Volunteers of North America during our school’s spring break period from March 12-16, 2007. A group of 21 of us traveled down to Shreveport, Louisiana for a week of volunteer experience with the North Louisiana organization Volunteers of America. Our major goal for being in Louisiana was to help Katrina victims. While we had originally wanted to travel to New Orleans where the effects were the greatest, time constraints and an overabundance of other volunteers in the area caused us to change our plans. We ended up spending our volunteer opportunity in Shreveport, a northwest Louisiana city. While this area was not directly hit by the hurricane, the indirect effects were immense. On the day we left I was not looking forward to the 14 hour drive that it would take to get down to Shreveport, but I was more than ready to experience the South! The drive down went surprisingly fast (I wouldn’t say the same about the drive back) and we were in our hotel in no time. The part of Shreveport we were staying in appeared somewhat sketchy and I have to say I was a little worried after learning of the high crime rates the city was experiencing after the influx of new people to the area due to Hurricane Katrina. Every day we were bombarded with warnings to be careful because the city wasn’t as safe as it once was. While this made me uncomfortable, this was exactly the thing I wanted to experience coming down to Louisiana. I must admit that growing up in Iowa there was never really a time I can recall feeling unsafe. I knew that due to Katrina, Louisiana and the surrounding states were experiencing changing societal conditions. I saw these worsening conditions every night on the news down there and even saw them personally. Even over a year and a half after the hurricane the effects were still being felt. However, I knew this was also part of the reason I was there to help. On our group’s very first day of volunteering we had all met at the organization’s Highland center, which was an old church that offered an array of services to people in need. We were greeted by our “mom for the week,” Kay Lottin, and the Vice President of the organization, Brandy McNeill. They explained to us the different activities we would be doing during the week including building a house for a Katrina victim, working in childcare, helping with their Dress for Success program, and also sorting food for the Northwest Louisiana Food Bank. Not only did they plan everything out for us, but they also planned activities for us to do in the evenings when we weren’t volunteering. They provided lunch for us every day at our worksites, took us out for dinners and even gave us private tours. The amount of hospitality and genuine gratitude we received for being there and helping really took me aback. It made me realize just how much the people in that community appreciated what we were doing for them. That alone was one of the main reasons this experience was so meaningful for me. One of the most important things I think we did was to help build a house for a Katrina victim through Habitat for Humanity. I had done little in respect to building anything before so I certainly learned a lot! The majority of the work I did was putting up siding, sofits, and other finishing touches to the outside of the house. Luckily, for those three days we worked on the house I didn’t get hurt once! Our days started around 8 a.m. and finished around 4 p.m. It was very rewarding seeing the progress we had made throughout those hours. I actually thought this work was the most fun of the whole trip. Working outside in the nice weather knowing what you’re doing is for a good purpose really made for a great experience. In fact, the woman that we were building the house for actually showed up at the house to meet us and see the progress. To actually put a face to the name was a definite high point for me. Knowing that we were in a sense changing this woman’s life for the better really impacted me. On the Wednesday that we were in Shreveport the weather was rainy and so we had to halt production on the house and perform other volunteer duties. We all stayed at the Highland center and performed separate tasks. I ended up helping with some office work in the childcare center for a worker who was in dire need of some organization. While I know what I did was very helpful to the organization, this was probably my least favorite volunteer activity of the week. I essentially pulled different receipts and documents from files and either discarded them or re-filed them elsewhere. On the very last day of our volunteer work we met at the Habitat for Humanity Office for a moving project we were to be doing. Habitat had numerous different items in their office that needed to be transported to a nearby casino/hotel so they could be auctioned off. The proceeds from the auction went to benefit Habitat and the many people they help every year. We loaded up the items in vehicles and had to be extremely careful when unloading them because many of the items were extremely breakable and worth a lot. That same evening, after all of our experiences throughout the week, we hit the road and drove through the night back to Iowa City...and we were certainly tired! B. After spending a week with the Volunteers of America in North Louisiana I certainly came to respect what this agency does for people within their surrounding community. Before actually traveling down to Shreveport I had no idea of the resources this organization offered. Not only are they affiliated with Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank but Volunteers of America also has programs in adoption services, tutoring, Dress for Success (which promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire), a food and fellowship program that offers seniors a meal every Wednesday and Friday including entertainment and speakers, as well as a childhood development center. These are only a few of the services this organization provides! I think all the services the agency provides and how smoothly they are able to keep it running is an absolute strength for this particular agency. I think its major weakness may be (as it is for many volunteer agencies) in lack of volunteers and lack of proper funding to update their building. This volunteer experience has opened my eyes to the importance of volunteering. This was my first major volunteering experience and I didn’t realize how much many of these types of agencies depend on volunteers to get things done. I feel like Volunteers of America was a great organization to volunteer for because they greatly appreciated what we were doing and let us know that on numerous occasions. That type of gratitude made the experience that much more rewarding. I came away from the experience with a very high opinion of the agency as well as my own work within the agency. I learned to do things I had never done before and felt good about giving up my spring break so that I could help others. I must admit that I actually feel very proud of myself. This whole experience has made me appreciate everything about social services and has sparked my interest in the possibility of one day working as a social worker. Part 2 A potential client for the Volunteers of America in North Louisiana could really be anybody: young or old, rich or poor, black or white. This is one of the things the agency stressed upon us heavily. If I was a poor black mother approaching this agency for the first time I would probably be a little scared. I would need a safe place to keep my child while I go off and work during the day to pay for all our expenses. Would this organization be the right place for my child? I approach the Highland Center with my two-year-old tucked tightly in my arms. I look at the old church nervously, hesitantly. Since my husband left I have had to get a job and haven’t been able to support my daughter the way she deserves. I have heard good things about this place. I can pay based on my ability to pay and I have heard they have very good teachers. At this point I am not picky, but I wish I was in the position so that I could be. I open the door to the center and am directed down a long hall to the childcare center. This looks like a nice place. I am greeted by a short, brown-haired girl. She seems nice, too. She asks me how she can help and then hands me an application. I look at it and my head spins. How am I supposed to explain my situation? I am embarrassed by my situation. I hate having to ask for help. Another woman greets me and describes their organization. She makes me feel comfortable. She says she is a social worker. After a long talk I feel better and decide to enroll my daughter in their services. While it is one of the few options I have right now, I believe it is the best one for my daughter. It has been two years now and my daughter it still at the Highland Center. I am updated on anything new while she’s at the center. This organization has helped me so much. I have since gotten a better job and I can see that my daughter is happy. I am happy.