Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Goodbye HOGC

Dear HOGC,

My year of service is over! But, as I reflect on this past year, I choose to reflect on the positive and concentrate on moving forward and continuing to advance the common good to others. This year has been an incredibly crazy one for myself but I'm proud to say that I've made it! When I was offered a Volunteer Coordinator position on Dec 12, 2008, I was nervous about accepting it. I wasn't sure whether or not I could perform all of the tasks. Boy was I wrong! I came here, I did my job, and I helped "Be The Change".

The memories that I've made while being here have been incredible. The members that I have created lasting friendships with, the projects that I have been priveleged to help with, the service day that wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Kels & Ash, and the many networking opportunities that I've been afforded...are the best parts of this journey that I've been on over the past ten months.

I wish the organization much success and I can only hope and pray that HOGC will become a powerhouse non-profit. I wish the incoming AmeriCorps members much success w/ their upcoming year of service.

Much love,

Kevin J.
2009 AmeriCorps State Member
Volunteer Coordinator
Hands On Gulf Coast

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Donation of Historic Paint Colors Makes for a “Good Neighbor” on the Gulf Coast

Check out this article from the Mississippi Department of Archives & History. They did a story on some of the historical houses that have been completed here on the Gulf Coast and Hands On Gulf Coast has been highlighted. Check it out!

Donation of Historic Paint Colors Makes for a “Good Neighbor” on the Gulf Coast

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance video

Here's a video from WLOX about our service day at North Bay Elementary. Check it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance

On Friday, September 11, we will commemorate the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a Day of Volunteer Service and Remembrance. This initiative, United We Serve, was started by President Barack Obama, who has designated September 11 as an official National Day of Service.

Hands On Gulf Coast will answer this call from the president by having a service project tomorrow at North Bay Elementary in Biloxi, MS from 9am till 3:30pm. Please come out and support Hands On Gulf Coast, North Bay Elementary, President Obama's United We Serve initiative, and the Gulf Coast as we honor those who passed during the 9/11 attacks and our firefighters, police officers, coast guard officers, military officers and countless others who put their lives on the line each and every day in order to insure that we keep our freedoms.

Follow us on Twitter (for a steady stream of updates) and stay tuned to our Flickr page for photo updates from the event.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hurricane Katrina Memorial Day of Service

I've been feeling a kind of restless energy here on the Coast this past week. Maybe it's due to the whirlwind of activity leading up to all of the Katrina Anniversary events, or maybe it's just this strange tangible emotion that inevitably exists when remembering such a devastating event; whatever the cause of this unnamed energy, it certainly makes me grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organization that embraces and addresses the needs of the communities in which it serves.

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 29th, on the 4th Anniversary of the eve of Hurricane Katrina, Hands On Gulf Coast will be commemorating the event, as well as the citizens and the volunteers who worked tirelessly over the past few years to rebuild the Coast. On this bittersweet day, we'll honor the history of the Coast, express our gratitude to those of you who have helped us in our efforts and most importantly, contribute to the continued rebuilding efforts by committing our hearts and our hands to Hands On's first annual Katrina Day of Service.

So we invite you: the community members, Americorps members past and present, gracious donors, sponsors and all people in between, to join us on this day of service. We'll be painting, tiling and helping to beautify City Park in downtown Bay St. Louis. The day will start at 8AM and conclude at Noon with a small lunch reception featuring the Mayor, Les Fillingame.

Please join us on this momentous occasion (246 City Park Ave., Bay St. Louis, MS for your GPS units!) as we continue our efforts here on the Coast for growth and progress.

Hope to see you there!
Ashley Cartagena, HOGC Intern

Thursday, July 02, 2009

HOGC Volunteer Job Fair

Hands On Gulf Coast will be taking part in a Volunteer Job Fair being held at the Gulfport WIN Center.

Date - Wednesday, July 15
Time - 9am to 3pm
Location - Gulfport WIN Center, Classroom 1

There will also be two mini-workshops on how to incorporate your volunteer experience onto your resume. Times will be 10am & 1pm.

If you or any other organizations are interested in attending, please do so!

Friday, May 22, 2009

B&N Voucher

Click on the voucher, print it, and take it to a B&N of your choice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

AmeriCorps Week

  1. What is AmeriCorps?
  2. What is AmeriCorps Week?
  3. What did Hands On Gulf Coast do for AmeriCorps Week?

What is AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps provides opportunities for 75,000 Americans to give back in an intensive way to their communities and country each year. It consists of three main programs: AmeriCorps State and National, whose members serve with more than 2,900 national and local nonprofit and community groups; AmeriCorps VISTA, through which members serve full time fighting poverty; and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a team-based residential program for young adults 18-24 who carry out projects in public safety, the environment, youth development, and disaster relief and preparedness.

What is AmeriCorps Week?
AmeriCorps Week is a recruitment and recognition event designed to bring more Americans into service, salute AmeriCorps members and alums for their powerful impact, and thank the community partners who make AmeriCorps possible. AmeriCorps Week provides an opportunity for AmeriCorps members, alums, grantees, program partners, and friends to shine a spotlight on the work done by members in communities across the country -- and to motivate more AmeriCorps to join AmeriCorps or volunteer in their communities.

What did Hands On Gulf Coast do for AmeriCorps Week?
Hands On Gulf Coast celebrated AmeriCorps Week by holding it's 1st annual AmeriCorps Beach Bash. All of our AmeriCorps members met at the beach (across from the Biloxi Lighthouse) for food, games, and fun! After munching on delicious pizza from Papa John's, we gathered around the bonfire and told stories about our AmeriCorps experience. A few of our members are AmeriCorps NCCC Alums and they had nothing but amazing experiences during their service time. It was definitely a great bonding experience for those members in attendance. With that being said, our hope is to reach out to countless others who might be interested in devoting a small portion of their time to serving their state and their country.

Check out our Flickr page, for photos from our Beach Bash!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Woolmarket Elementary Arts & Crafts - Part 2

Today, we went back to Woolmarket Elementary to do more arts & crafts projects with the kindergarten classes. We created pop-up flower cards for the kids to take home for Mother's Day.

Here's a few photos from today's adventures at Woolmarket Elementary!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

HOGC Recognition Award

Just over a month ago, our Volunteer Coordinators were contacted by a staff member from CPCA (Center for Prevention of Child Abuse) requesting volunteers to help with their Family Funfair event at the 17th annual Cajun Crawfish Festival. After meeting with her and then advertising the volunteer opportunity in our weekly email, the responses came pouring in. We had a group of students who were interested in being the characters. We also had volunteers who were interested in just helping out in whatever area they could. We also....(last one) had an AmeriCorps NCCC from Perry Point, Maryland that wanted to help out. Needless to say, the Family Funfair event was definitely a success with the volunteers.

Soooo, on yesterday, one of our Volunteer Coordinators received a call from this same staff member again and she wanted to invite us to a Recognition Ceremony at the IP Casino in Biloxi. Two of our coordinators represented Hands On Gulf Coast at the ceremony and received an award for all the help that we was able to provide to the CPCA for their event.

For those of you who don't know, April is the National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Check out for more information about Mississippi's Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and to possibly volunteer with them.
The picture to the left is the award that we received last night!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tell Me A Short Story About Your Life.

Growing up in a small Connecticut town with liberal parents and a very New England education, I never imagined – in fact I never wanted – to find myself living and working in the heart of the South. For the past twenty years I stayed on track; I found the quintessential Ivy League experience and with the exception of a short term stay on the sunny west coast, I bled blue New England blood. Imagine my parents surprise then, when I presented them with an opportunity to volunteer full time on the Gulf Coast. My entire family was stunned that I would chose to spend my time-off in the South, and not in my hometown of Roxbury, Connecticut.

Somehow I managed to put my hesitations aside and in early January I found myself racing through John F. Kennedy International Airport; with just about ten minutes before the airline stopped boarding, and with just a change of clothes in my carry-on (I was too late to check baggage), I tearfully said my goodbyes to my mom and after she forced me through security, I was on my way. After a long layover in Atlanta and a time change later, somehow I made it safely to Gulfport, Mississippi where I was greeted by a kind cab driver who helped me with my nonexistent luggage. Jeff was a native of the area; like many of the locals I’d meet in the next few months, he’d been on the coast for over forty years and weathered many storms.

Without even asking, Jeff pulled out three books from underneath the passenger seat. He handed them to me and said, “this is my town, this is what we’ve been through, and this is where we’re going.” As Jeff drove me to Yankie Stadium, where I would live for the next few weeks, I looked through the photographic depiction of Hurricane Katrina. A few pictures, like the ones taken weeks after the storm at the Superdome in New Orleans, were familiar; others, like most of the South, looked completely foreign.

I tried to take in as much of the scenery, and as much of Jeff’s commentary, as I could, but it was difficult. I didn’t know what to expect of my experience and even though Interstate 10 looked relatively harmless, I still felt entirely overwhelmed and unsure of what the next two months would have in store. As we rounded the corner on Division Street and pulled into the Volunteer Village, I took one last deep breath and reaffirmed my purpose: “you’re here to do good,” I told myself, “you’re here and you can make a difference.”

I wish that my reflection on my experience in Mississippi could be cohesive, and eloquent and meaningful to anyone but me. But the truth is, the two months I spent on the Gulf Coast were probably the most exhilarating, confusing and fulfilling months I’ve ever had in my life. From the second I stepped foot on that Mississippi Mud, I was hypnotized by the people, the places, the beauty of the commitment locals had to rebuilding their home. Sometimes it was ugly, sometimes it was disorganized, sometimes inequality and evil were exposed; but mostly, what Mississippi was for me, was an infinite experience that allowed me to find myself in a very real and very genuine way. The truth is, I haven’t stopped “reflecting” on my internship since I left Biloxi in March; Hands On Gulf Coast and that experience is so much alive within me, that I just can’t find it in my heart to distance myself from it...

Which is why I'm officially coming back to the HOGC Team in June! I can't tell you how thrilled I am, and I will write more later when I don't have a midterm looming in the near future =)

Love and heat waves,

Woolmarket Elementary Arts & Crafts - Part 1

One of the new partnerships that we've struck up since arriving in January is with Woolmarket Elementary in Biloxi, MS. During our initial meeting with one of the faculty members, Shirley Hartman, she told us that the school did not have an art program. I was immediately saddened by that because I think that all schools should have some type of arts program. All students should be exposed to the arts, whether that is drawing, music, painting, band, dance, or any other type of art. During that meeting, I decided (quietly to myself) that I would want to come up with some sort of art activity for the students to participate in. With a lot of Karin's help and some input from myself, we were able to start up these various art activities with the K-2nd grade students.

Our first Arts & Crafts Day was on April 7 with the Kindergartners. We had them color several Easter/spring related pictures. For the most part, they all had a great time. They were kinda all over the place but I think that they learned a few things from us and had a fun time talking to us as well. Some of them didn't want me to leave and they all wanted to know when we were coming back.

Our second Arts & Crafts Day was last Tuesday (April 21) and we worked with the 1st graders. It was the day before Earth Day so we brought bookmarks for them to color and then cut out. We also had some little Earth Day related pictures for them to cut out and then glue to a colored sheet of paper.

Today was our third Arts & Crafts Day at Woolmarket. This time, we were working with the 2nd graders. I handled one class alone until Kelsey arrived to help out. Today, we brought in some blank sheets of paper and had the students write their name in big letters. After doing so, they were instructed to draw things around their name that they liked. (e.g. - favorite color, sport, hobbies, etc). And they had to fill the whole page! Afterwards, I asked them to turn their page over and draw a self-portrait for everyone to see. Then, I hand-picked a few of them and asked them to stand up and show the rest of the class what they drew and why. A few were a little shy but others were more than willing to stand up. Overall, it was a great day working with them.

Next week, we will work with the kindergartners again. Fun fun fun!

PS - Thanks to Mrs. Brown @ for the amazing art projects. That's how I found the idea for today's art activity.

Here's photos from today's Woolmarket Arts & Crafts Day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Global Youth Service Day 2009

On Saturday, April 25, Hands On Gulf Coast held its 2nd service day project and collaborated on a park beautification project with the city of Bay St. Louis Parks Department, an AmeriCorps NCCC team from Perry Point, Maryland, and the Hancock County Boys and Girls Club. As part of Global Youth Service Day, the largest service event worldwide, the project promoted and celebrated service and leadership among youth ages 5-25. The event brought together both local community members and non-locals, including a group of junior high and high school youth that traveled from Ridgeland, MS to participate.

Over 70 youth and adults contributed to various projects at 7th Street Park, including creating a mural, adding a layer of mulch underneath the playground equipment, painting a basketball court, building/decorating birdhouses, and decorating tiles. As they reflected on the day, participants mentioned that they had fun and felt like they had made a difference in the park. One parent was pleased to see that her children were able to learn responsibility and could see the results of their efforts when they returned to the park to play.

The photos below are from GYSD 09. They're just a sneak peek of all the fun and excitement from that day. If you wanna see the rest of the photos, check out our Flickr page at

Also, for all you "Double F's" (Facebook Fanatics), check out our Facebook group at

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Big Picture

As the public memory of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina fades, and the recovery of the Mississippi Gulf Coast moves along, I've gotten many questions about what Hands On Gulf Coast will be doing in the next few years. I'd like to share a little bit of the programmatic vision for HOGC, and emphasize that the full recovery from Katrina is far from complete, and the ways in which the damage manifests itself in this community have been ever-changing. One of HOGC's core values is to continue to keep a pulse on these changes and think creatively about how we can engage volunteers to address the most pressing needs here.

What our recovery work looks like has evolved over the past three and a half years, and as the community's needs have shifted HOGC has worked hard to adjust to these rapidly changing needs. We remain committed to getting the job done, and are working with several other organizations to provide programmatic support and volunteer project management throughout the long term recovery from Hurricane Katrina and beyond. The largest investment we've made has been through our AmeriCorps*State program. Continuing our construction work, we currently have members placed at five sites with three partner organizations: the Hope CDA (formerly East Biloxi Hope Coordination Center), Fuller Center Disaster Rebuilders (formerly Project REHAB), and Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi (at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, Camp Coast Care in Pass Christian, and Mission on the Bay in Bay St. Louis). These partners provide full project management for construction projects, including case management, funding, and skilled supervision, while HOGC provides management and administration of the AmeriCorps*State program and volunteer coordination support. Meeting the need for affordable, safe housing as a nonprofit along the Gulf Coast has become increasingly challenging with the current economic climate, new building requirements and rising insurance costs for homeowners, and the accumulating elapsed time from the disaster. HOGC's movement toward addressing the affordable housing issue through partnerships has proven both necessary and successful, and we will continue to support the rebuilding effort in this way.

HOGC's work has always been focused on facilitating a holistic recovery, recognizing that while rebuilding housing has been the most pressing need in the aftermath of Katrina, it is far from the only factor in restoring the community bonds that have made the Gulf Coast such a compelling place to live. Rebuilding community infrastructure can be a perplexing challenge for volunteers coming in from outside the community. HOGC has worked to create volunteer programming to bring the community back together through revitalization projects and special events. We have also turned to our partners and supporters for opportunities to support local nonprofits and volunteer organizations. Local service providers are the best equipped and most knowledgeable resources to continue providing long term case management, mental health, environmental rehabilitation and youth development services to the community. Our role has been to restore these providers to their pre-storm functionality, and help them expand their ability to provide high quality services to more clients. We have been working with the Biloxi and Gulfport school systems, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, city governments across the Gulf Coast, Coastal Family Health Centers, state and national parks, neighborhood and civic groups, and cultural organizations since the very beginning of our time here. We will build on these initial relationships to develop regular volunteer opportunities that build capacity for these organizations, provide volunteer management and recruitment, as well as training, for our partners, and provide support through our AmeriCorps*State program to develop a robust volunteer community.

Hands On Gulf Coast, and Hands On USA before us, were founded by volunteers, and have relied on the thousands of passionate, dedicated people from all over the world who have given their time, and in most cases, a piece of themselves to the Gulf Coast. The folks who came down worked hard, but they surely gained the satisfaction of helping someone, a new friend (or 140 as I counted my own via the Facebook today), and the empowering feeling that "everyone can be great, because everyone can serve" (MLK, Jr.). HOGC will continue to engage volunteers in the vital work of restoring the Gulf Coast, and we will build on our legacy of volunteerism to establish an engaged, empowered local volunteer community here. In seeking to rebuild and reunite a community fractured by the most destructive storm in US memory, we will use service as a platform to bring estranged populations together, to heal, to learn about each other, and to restore a sense of ownership, and home.

Kind of a big vision, but that's what we are hoping to accomplish over the next few months, years, and beyond. I do hope you're inspired, proud of your contribution to this ongoing project, and will continue to be a part of Hands On Gulf Coast.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Hands On Gulf Coast is movin' on up

It's been a whirlwind few months since November, and I thought I would provide a more detailed update about HOGC's progress. I looked back at the past few entries and realized there was never an official update that Hands On Gulf Coast has been granted 501c3 tax-exempt status, a federal classification that allows us to operate independently. If you're not familiar with non-profit-ese, it basically means we are a legit, locally-based nonprofit organization. This is exciting because it means HOGC will be able to function as a permanent fixture in the up-and-coming nonprofit sector here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and will continue our mission to address the most pressing needs along the Gulf Coast through volunteerism!
On January 12, HOGC welcomed its third team of AmeriCorps*State members, 27 lovely rays of sunshine from across the country who arrived here to coordinate volunteers, rebuild homes, reach out to youth and underserved populations, and generally make the Gulf Coast a pretty sweet place to live. These folks will be working hard all year to reach out to organizations in the area to launch our local volunteer projects, continue the post-Katrina rebuilding work, and engage the Gulf Coast in high-impact service. The team kicked off their service with a week of orientation followed by a Day of Service with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. We also welcomed two Alternative Spring break coordinators from Dartmouth College to coordinate our 4th ASB program in March, which I am sure will be well-documented on this blog, so stay tuned for that!

As of January 31, we have also completed the move out of our office/housing facility at Beauvoir United Methodist Church on Pass Rd. After three great years, and many many memories, we made the decision to partner with other local organizations to continue to house out-of-state volunteers as necessary, and pursue a permanent office space in the Knight Nonprofit Center. The Knight Center is a brand new facility on Seaway Road in Gulfport, and is an exciting development in the growth of the nonprofit sector here on the Gulf Coast. The Knight Center houses several local nonprofits, including the Boys and Girls Club administrative offices, the United Way of South Mississippi, the MS Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Mississippi Case Managers Consortium, and many other organizations. This move is an opportunity for HOGC to further integrate into the local nonprofit sector, and to forge exciting new partnerships with these other organizations. We will be moving to our permanent space in May, and are currently residing in a temporary office generously offered by one of our Board Members, Steven Palazzo, in Woolmarket.

Definitely more to come on what HOGC is up to in '09, and I've added a few of the new AmeriCorps members as contributors so you don't have to deal with my ramblings all the time.