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.