Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The beginning of the end of an era...

Today was a pretty big day...we began the long, sweaty, emotional process of moving out of our home for the past 3+ years, 2113 Pass Rd. I never imagined when I arrived here in March of 2007 that I would be the one person out of that team left here leading this project. And although when I arrived the walls were already covered with remembrances of volunteers come and gone, and this building has never been my actual home (although I think I've logged enough hours to claim residency at this point) I have to say this is probably one of the hardest things I've had to do since I got here. Most of what we did today involved sorting things, cleaning out rooms, and throwing away more pillows than I thought even existed, and I took on the task of taking pictures of everything on the walls. All day I thought about each piece, when it went up, and how many times I had actually sat down and looked at it over the course of the last year and a half. I started to take down some of the overflow t-shirts and posters that have been recently added on the first floor, and had to run back for the camera at least 3 or 4 times to capture more of this space before taking it down. I know it's just stuff, and I'm excited about moving to a new place, but I know I'm closing this chapter of HOGC's history.
I am pretty excited, however, that we now have a final destination for the infamous retired jerseys...they, and most of the memorabilia from the thousands of volunteers who have been here, will be preserved by the Katrina Research Center at University of Southern Mississippi. I am so glad to know that anyone who has been here on this journey with HOGC can come back to the Gulf Coast and feel like they're coming home (sorry, I know that was cheesy but I had to rep Mississippi for a minute).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Make Difference Day

On Saturday, October 25th, Hands On Gulf Coast (HOGC) joined millions of Americans across the country for the 18th annual Make A Difference Day, the largest community service day in the nation that rallies corporations, government, nonprofits, and Americans into action.

This year, we developed, organized and led five volunteer service projects that mobilized over 225 volunteers in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties. Volunteers
  • built a community garden in North Gulfport, 
  • helped children connect to their East Biloxi community through creative art projects, 
  • cleaned garbage and cut trails at Shepard State Park in Gautier, 
  • gutted and cleaned four homes hit by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Pearlington, 
  • and tiled a shade structure for the Faces of the Gulf Coast project during the Vancleave KaBOOM! build.
Check out our photos on Flickr!

Hands On Gulf Coast thanks the following organizations who helped make the day such a success: North Gulfport Community Land Trust, Gulf Coast Boys and Girls Clubs, Pearlington Recovery Center, One House at a Time, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Keesler Air Force Base, NAVASA, Shepard State Park, and KaBOOM!

This day would not have been possible without the generous donations and efforts of the following organizations, individuals, and companies: Southern Grounds, Salvation Army, Popeye's, Domino's Pizza, Wing Zone, Strami's Italian Cafe, Quizno's, Caitlin Boulger and Ken Wetzel.

Thank you to all volunteers and sponsors who helped make a difference!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Make A Difference Day: October 25, 2008

Hands On Gulf Coast (HOGC) will join millions of Americans across the country spending Saturday, Oct. 25 - the 18th Make A Difference Day - doing volunteer projects to improve the community and help neighbors in need. The day is the largest community service effort in the nation, rallying corporations, government leaders, nonprofit organizations and everyday Americans into action on one day.

HOGC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliate of Hands On Network – a network of nonprofit organizations around the world that inspire volunteers, create leaders, and change lives and communities through effective volunteer action. We envision a community where all individuals discover their power to make a difference and are equipped as active, engaged citizens.

This year, Hands On Gulf Coast will host five events, beginning with a kickoff celebration the morning of October 25th at the Good Deeds Community Center - 15101 Madison Street in Gulfport, see map below. Volunteer check-in and breakfast will begin at 9:00am, before volunteers disperse to their service sites.

It is HOGC's goal to mobilize over 250 volunteers in Harrison, Hancock, and Pearl River county. Register today and bring your family, friends, youth group, and neighbors.

Volunteers are needed for the following projects:
  • to build a North Gulfport community garden and clear vacant lots
  • join us for Art in the Park, a family volunteer and crafts day in East Biloxi
  • remove debris and overgrowth from trails at Shepard State Park in Gautier
  • help muck and gut homes of Pearlington residents affected by Katrina and Gustav
  • work on construction projects in multiple locations
To find out how to join in, please visit www.handsongulfcoast.org, call Hands On Gulf Coast at 228-257-6094, or email volunteer '@' handsongulfcoast.org.

Details Summary
Kick Off Breakfast & Checkin*: 9am at the Good Deeds Community Center in Gulfport (map below)
Projects Begin: 10am
Day Ends: around 3pm

Please register by October 23, 2008.
* for those not able to drive to Gulfport, you can check in at your site (9:30am), confirm details when you make your reservation

Map to Kick Off location at Good Deeds Community Center, Gulfport, MS.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Notes from the ServiceNation Panel

Last Saturday's panel discussion focused on the past, present and future of the volunteer movement in Biloxi and along the Gulf Coast. I took some notes which I'd like to share. Most quotes are paraphrased. First, let's introduce our panel:

Dorothy Noorbaar, Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast / AmeriCorps VISTA
Nelson Walker, Hands On Gulf Coast / North Gulfport Community Land Trust
Craig Snow, Project Coordinator, Hope Force International
Juanita Gaines, Moore Community House
Johnis Ross, Hope Coordination Center

Caitlin Brooking, Director of Programs, Hands On Gulf Coast

Why do you volunteer?

Juanita: Because of the many needs in the community, especially among seniors and children. "I love people. You have to be a people person to want to volunteer."

Dorothy: My previous job and life situation weren't fulfilling. So I picked up and moved here in order to do something worthwhile. I don't want to live my life unhappy and unfulfilled.

Johnis: I told myself that I wouldn't break down, even in the face of the enormous loss after Katrina. I wanted to be there for other people, with words, with actions, and with resources. I wanted to be able to work for the Lord.

What is the greatest reward of volunteering?

Craig: Seeing the point at which someone can start to visualize their new house. After it's destroyed, there's nothing but loss and memories. But there's a point during construction, once the sheetrock is in, that people can start to imagine the way their new house will look, imagine their bedroom and living room. That's when hope is restored.

Nelson: Working with kids. My most rewarding moment came when I could be a friend to a child who didn't have a lot of other friends at the time.

What do volunteers bring to a community?

Dorothy: Volunteers sacrifice a lot to come here; they are away from their jobs, their homes, and even their families. Sometimes they get treated like outsiders, and they shouldn't be. They should be valued for what they've given up.

Craig: The volunteer movement can inspire the local community to act in compassion. The best definition of love is: choosing the other person's highest good. That's what volunteers do, and they can inspire others to do that.

Juanita: I agree. Volunteers bring love to a community.

What needs to be happening 3+ years after a disaster?

Johnis: People are getting back into their houses. But what do you do then? There are still great needs. Before the storm, I wanted to open a house for women with children to help them develop parenting skills, financial skills, and more. That need is still as great as ever. Mississippi has a very high rate of teen pregnancy. There's a lot more that needs to be done.

Juanita: Education. Particularly, attempts to reach out and educate people who normally aren't in the loop about what's going on in their communities. We need to go door-to-door to reach out to these people.

Also, we need to encourage volunteers to keep coming down. Invite family members and others to volunteer here or in other areas such as Texas.

Craig: One danger of a long-term volunteer presence that some people will begin to feel a sense of entitlement. They are used to having volunteer services available. With fewer outside volunteers coming in, however, people will have to participate more, and contribute more to the rebuilding of their own communities.

Habitat has the idea of "sweat equity", in which people are required to help out with the construction of their own homes. We've also applied this idea to our recent work in Louisiana after Gustav. Instead of asking people, "What can we do for you?", we ask, "What can we help you do?" We want to enable people to help themselves.

Johnis: One ongoing problem is communication.
Not everybody reads the paper or watches the news. We need organizations, like VOAD, that increase communication and cooperation.

How can we develop programs for children without replacing the role of parents?

It's true that if parents don't take an active role, some children are basically being raised by programs. But this doesn't mean that programs are bad; it means parents need to be encouraged to get involved in their childrens' lives. Schools and after-school programs can require parental participation. In some cases, parents have to work two jobs or have other issues that make it difficult for them to spend much time with their children. These issues could be addressed as well.

Caitlin: Hands On has a vision of schools as communities. That means they're not just used from 7 to 2, but for after-school programs, community meetings, and other events that bring parents, children, and community members together.

How do you envision the volunteer movement in 5, 10, or 20 years?

Craig: Leverage the small flow of outside volunteers in order to develop and support a large flow of local volunteers. Help increase the capacity of local organizations.

Johnis: Develop permanent infrastructure for volunteer and community service efforts, such as a disaster response center north of the Bay from which future response efforts could be coordinated.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

ServiceNation Day of Action

Again on WLOX, this is a link to a clip that ran Saturday evening. This time, WLOX featured Hands On Gulf Coast's participation in the Service Nation's Day of Action.

The news clip introduces another new staff member at Hands On Gulf Coast: Ann Lewandowski, AmeriCorps Program Coordinator. She arrived at the end of August to run the AmeriCorps program. She is a two-term VISTA and is excited to be on the Gulf Coast.

Welcome aboard!

Note: The clip is linked to WLOX and has an advertisement at the beginning. The clip also ends with an advertisement before it moves to the next, unrelated piece. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

WLOX & HOGC's New Executive Director

This is a piece WLOX broadcast on 24 September 2008.  In the piece, you'll see Lillian Jenkins, our new Executive Director.  A Long Beach, Mississippi native she was on the job a few short hours before giving the interview.

We are excited to have her aboard!  We are also excited to continue putting down our roots on the Gulf Coast and becoming an everyday part of life.

Aired on 24 Sep 08.  Just so you know, there will be an advertisement, then the clip that aired, then another advertisement.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

KaBOOM Chicka Boom

[Originally posted on Design . Build . Learn . Repeat]

If you haven’t heard of the fine folks at KaBOOM!, they travel the country building playgrounds for neighborhoods that need them. Their goal: a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. Friday and Saturday, I helped prepare and lead the construction of a shade structure as part of a KaBOOM! build at the Isiah Fredericks Community Center in North Gulfport. The shade structure was designed by Jessie Zenor and built by Hands On and the North Gulfport Community Land Trust; it incorporated hundreds of tiles decorated by children from across the Gulf Coast school system.

  • Total number of KaBOOM playgrounds as of Saturday: 1,500
  • Number of tiles decorated by kids in Gulf Coast schools: 620
  • Number of total volunteers: 400+
  • Number of Air Force volunteers: 225
  • KaBOOM playgrounds on the Gulf Coast since Katrina: 107
  • Time we finished prep work on Friday night: 11:30
  • New picnic tables: 4
  • Shade structures built: 1
Friday afternoon, I got a message from Caitlin at Hands On saying they needed help getting the structure ready for the KaBOOM! day. We ended up staying there until 11:30 at night, and good thing we did, because Saturday morning we had eager volunteers ready to begin gluing tiles to the structure.

Check out many more pictures on Hands On's Flickr Page!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gustav and Ike Update

Hi folks-
With the arrival of Ike late last week, all of our disaster response projects from Gustav received further damage, mostly due to the huge storm surge Ike brought all along the Gulf Coast. Biloxi itself did receive some flooding, but Bay St. Louis, Pearlington, and our project in Chauvin, LA were all inundated with flood waters, forcing us to evacuate those projects for the weekend. Our team in Chauvin restocked supplies and returned to Louisiana on Sunday when the water receded, to find most of the roof work they completed still intact, but a new challenge in mucking out homes flooded this time around. The plan for now there is to keep our team on the ground through this week and re-evaluate the scope of work, and to determine the long-term plan based on the needs, and capacity of local groups to continue to respond.
HOGC has also reached out to the Hands On affiliate in Houston to offer any assistance they may need, but until assessments are complete and we are asked to respond we will be standing by in Biloxi, continuing to help our community recover from this year's storms and our regular work load. We do need volunteers to help with our project in Pearlington, helping the Pearlington Recovery Center muck out and gut the 100+ homes that were flooded, so if you want to help in Mississippi we can certainly put you to work!
Take care and stay well,

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gustav Response...and also, hello!

Hi, I am the mysterious Caitlin that de Veer has been talking about. I've been holding down the fort since June as we search for a new Executive Director, and it has been a wild ride so far...particularly the past few days. I've been sending the brief, weird updates to the left through Twitter.com, from the Red Cross shelter most of the HOGC team was assigned to through the storm. We worked for about 3 days straight to prepare the HOGC base in case we got flooded/tornadoed/or lost power/water, then with the Red Cross to help stage their shelters across Harrison and Hancock counties, then checking in and feeding the fine folks who turned out at Stennis Space Center over in Hancock county. Many of our volunteers worked around the clock, and our team really pulled together to assist before, during and after the storm. I am so proud to be a part of this organization right now!

Yesterday and today we've been working on getting our heads around the damage and needs in the area affected by Gustav, and how we can best respond. HOGC and our partner, HopeForce International, are sending a small team of volunteers and AmeriCorps members over to an area just south of Houma, to a town called Chauvin, LA. They will be working to assess the damage in this area tomorrow with the local fire department, and will be housed in the fire station. In the next few days they will begin tarping roofs and clearing debris, as well as working to determine the long term response needs and the capacity for a larger team of volunteers.
View Larger Map

We have received huge support from the Hands On Network and Points of Light staff, as well as The Home Depot, all of whom mobilized literally overnight to support our response effort. An enormous THANK YOU to all of the support we've already received, and to all of the volunteers already registered to help out...we are looking forward to working with you!!

I also traveled to Hancock county today to check out Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pearlington, and it seems Gustav has been fairly merciful. Some neighborhoods did take quite a bit of water, and we heard about 100 homes were flooded in the area, but the storm surge did not seem to be particularly violent, and the volunteer organizations in the area seem to be acting very quickly to address the needs. We will be helping Presbyterian Disaster Assistance rebuild their volunteer camp so they can begin to receive volunteers, and we also stopped by the PearlMart and they seemed to be in good shape. We will be working with the Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) being set up by Volunteer Gulf Coast to receive any work orders and deploy volunteers, but the damage seems to be fairly manageable with the great organizations already working in Hancock county. We will continue to stay in touch with our partner organizations to respond to any further need as people begin to return to their homes and survey their own damage.

I will be traveling to Chauvin on Friday to check out the work our team has been doing and to check out the capacity for the area to receive volunteers, and we will most definitely be working with Hands On New Orleans and Volunteer Baton Rouge, as well as the VRC in Louisiana to deploy volunteers. If you want to come down and help out, please visit www.volunteerlouisiana.gov to register with the VRC...we will be directing all out of state volunteers to this VRC to connect them with organizations to make the recovery effort as orderly and impactful as possible. There will be plenty of work to do clearing debris, tarping, mucking out homes and gutting (AND MOLD REMEDIATION, OF COURSE!!), so as soon as we are able to secure housing, food, and to assess the extent of the work, we would love to have all of ya'll's help!

Take care,


Gustav, Update 2

What are we up to?  At this point, we're still awaiting all the damage assessments from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

Flooding has receded in most, if not all, areas, but residents have been encouraged not to return until today, though according to the Sun Herald many came home yesterday.  Highway 90 is closed for repairs.  Check here for the Sun Herald's city-by-city report.

While we're waiting for damage assessments in our communities, we plan to check out Pearlington, Mississippi to see what sort of assistance is needed and what assistance we could provide.  They were were hit with flooding again.  More to come later this evening.

At this time, both Hands On Gulf Coast and Hands On New Orleans are directing those who want to volunteer to the Louisiana Volunteer Reception Center (VCR).  You can find out more information on their website www.VolunteerLouisiana.gov.

Additionally, a small team of Hands On Gulf Coast volunteers will go with Hope Force to Houma, Louisiana for a two-week mission.  There, we will be assisting in the initial stages of disaster recovery.  Our focus will be on tarping roofs, cutting away trees, and performing general debris clean up.

As with each disaster, we can use your support for these operations.  Gas stations are closed in Houma, so all fuel needs to be brought in.  Additionally, we need to purchase tarps to put on people's roofs.  Please support our efforts by donating for our emergency operations efforts.  Your generous support is always appreciated by those who receive our services.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gustav Report

As you can see, the HOGC Base seems to have weathered the storm well. There is little apparent damage. Power was on and food doesn't seem to have spoiled in the fridge.

Initial reports from Harrison, Jackson, and Hancock Counties are that there was damage, but it's not nearly as significant as there could have been. There were downed trees and flooding, particularly around Point Cadet and East Biloxi.

Until we get a more full assessment on the site, check out the news on SunHerald.com.  Here are some links to region-wide stories:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ominous Skies

Wachovia on Highway 90, near the Hobby Lobby

Photo of the skies. Courtesy of Caitlin Brooking's cell phone.

Hurricane Gustav Preparations

We have been watching the developments of Hurricane Gustav closely.  For those of you interested in what we plan to do, please read below:
  • Hands On Gulf Coast staff and AmeriCorps members will work with the Red Cross of South Mississippi to run evacuation shelters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
  • Hands On Gulf Coast is on call with Harrison County Emergency Management post-storm for debris removal duty.
  • Hands On Gulf Coast is on desk to assist in the management of unaffiliated volunteers who might come to the area to help with storm damage.
  • Hands On Gulf Coast is in communication with Hands On New Orleans.  Depending on the severity of damage and where the most need is, Hands On Gulf Coast staff and AmeriCorps members may help with New Orleans recovery efforts.
If you are interested in coming down to volunteer after Hurricane Gustav passes, please call before you arrive.  Given the commitments to local emergency agencies and potentially to Hands On New Orleans, we need to provide you with the most current information regarding capacity and greatest need.

The phone number to contact is still: 228.257.6094.

We will continue to post information about our activities on this site.  Also, check out the Gustav Updates (via Twitter) in the right-hand column of the blog and on our Twitter site: http://twitter.com/hogc.

Let's continue to hope Hurricane Gustav weakens, or at minimum fails to strengthen before it arrives on the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Last Day

Hi Everyone,

Today was my last day working on the Gulf Coast.  Though my last official day as Director was 16 May 08, Friday, there was really no way to not work on HOGC stuff until I actually leave the Coast.

So, I thank everyone for their support of Hands On Gulf Coast, our mission and the work we do.  I also thank everyone for their support during our years of transition, evolving as the needs of the Gulf Coast communities evolve.  It's not always been easy, but the constant evolution is necessary to continue to stay relevant to the recovery effort.

I thank my staff, AmeriCorps members, and long-term volunteers who really deserve the credit for making Hands On Gulf Coast what it is.  

Caitlin Brooking is now the Acting Director of Hands On Gulf Coast.   I know she'll do well in her role.  Please give her the support she needs as she takes over amidst a challenging time.

My experience in Biloxi, MS has been one of the most challenging and rewarding in my life.  It sounds cliche, but it is true.  Where else do you spend 18+hrs a day working and (usually) feel great about doing it?  We build homes and community for those ravaged by Katrina and ignored by many recovery systems and processes.  This work, helping others, is so critical, that the gravity of its impact helps buoy you over the rough seas and setbacks.

I am proud to have served the residents of the Gulf Coast.  I am proud that each of you felt the same compelling desire and need to help the Gulf Coast and chose to spend your time with us.  Please continue your support of the recovery efforts, in general, and Hands On Gulf Coast, in particular.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Independence Update

It's been about six weeks since our last update on Hands On Gulf Coast's transition from program of Points of Light & Hands On Network, to a local nonprofit governed by the community.

In the intervening six weeks, somethings move quickly, some things move slowly.  What's new?
  • We agreed that becoming an independence nonprofit is the best way to meet both the needs of the community and the needs of the national office.  As part of this process we explored the option of partnering with Volunteer Gulf Coast.  Both organizations want to promote and encourage the Gulf Coast communities to become more deeply engaged in community building efforts through volunteer projects, however both organizations agree that the rapid move to independence required of Hands On Gulf Coast does not allow sufficient time to thoroughly explore the range of partnership opportunities.  Because partnership and not duplicating services is critical, Hands On Gulf Coast's Advisory Board agreed that Hands On Gulf Coast should move ahead with independence from the national office, then circle back with Volunteer Gulf Coast and the United Way to hammer out the details of a solid, community changing partnership.
  • Recruited board members like Bob Fell - just now retiring from the City of Biloxi and going into business building homes - and Lee Gentry - Clinic Administrator for Coastal Family Health Care.
  • We developed, voted on, and adopted by-laws and articles of incorporation.
  • Began the process of establishing accounts and credit in the name of the organization Hands On Gulf Coast
Of course there is quite a bit more to do, such as establish a payroll service, obtain insurance, get to fundraising, but we're working on them bit by bit.  We're also working with the national office to reconcile financial records so that Hands On Gulf Coast starts out on solid financial footing.

Through all of this, Hands On must work through the transition of a number of key staff.  Sara Hamilton, Associate Director, left at the beginning of May.   Today is my last day of work as the Director, though there will be many days behind the scenes helping out.  At the beginning of June, Sue Cole, Operations Assistant, and Erica Winslow, Mold Educator, both leave and will be sorely missed.

So not only is the organization's status transitioning, so too is the staff.  Though there will be bumpy times and challenges ahead, you will see new organization and structure emerge.  It will be stronger and better able to focus on what's most important - the meeting the critical needs of the Gulf Coast Community through volunteer work.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

YouTube Channel

About two months ago, I established a channel for HOGC videos. Because we've been busy with volunteers and transition details, we haven't had much of an opportunity to post videos.

Last week, I prepared two slideshows for a presentation to a region meeting of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, yes the Internet people) registrars and registrees in New Orleans. Unfortunately, for all my tech savvy, I was foiled by a slow computer and was not able to show the photo collages of the Gulf after Katrina hit (courtesy Hands On USA volunteers and FEMA) and of Hands On Gulf Coast volunteers working.

You can see them here:

As well as on our YouTube channel.

More to come in the future.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It is difficult for me to make this posting. I have decided to step down as Director and leave Hands On Gulf Coast, effective May 16, 2008.

I started with Hands On USA, arriving just days before they handed over the operation to Hands On Gulf Coast. I was there at the transition when Dave Campbell said, “Do you want a job? I just set you up for an interview in 20 minutes.” From day one with Hands On Gulf Coast, I have helped manage the organization, taking over as Director in January 2007.

Still, I came down like everyone else, a volunteer. Hurricane Katrina directly impacted my family – my grandmother and one of my uncles lost their homes in the New Orleans region. I knew I would be down. I thought it was just for three weeks.

Many of you have never met me because I prefer to work quietly behind the scenes. I enjoy the world of spreadsheets, budgets, computers, and yes, people. I worked with a great team of people to make your experience at Hands On Gulf Coast as rewarding as possible.

The opportunity that I was given to help manage, then lead Hands On has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.

I also have to announce that another pillar of Hands On Gulf Coast will leave on May 2. Sara Hamilton, now the Associate Director, came from Chicago Cares, the Hands On Network affiliate in, you guessed it, Chicago. She arrived in June 2006, after a week-long volunteer experience in April 2006.

She came back and immediately jumped in to manage our volunteer programs. After six months, the massive AmeriCorps program was handed to her with the simple directive “make it happen”. She developed, implemented, and managed one of the most effective AmeriCorps programs in Mississippi. Did I mention that she had no prior AmeriCorps experience and she had six weeks to recruit and enroll the first round of members?

Yes, Sara has been one of the other quiet presences at Hands On Gulf Coast that has kept the organization moving ahead despite transition and tumult.

Caitlin Brooking, currently the AmeriCorps Program Manager, will step into the role of Acting Director after I leave. She will hold that post until we hire an Interim Executive Director.

To ensure the delivery of quality volunteer service, we will be hiring an AmeriCorps Program Coordinator and additional administrative support, in addition to the Development Specialist who will focus on fund raising for us.

It is only appropriate that as Hands On Gulf Coast the organization transitions, so to does the leadership. It’s the next step in the evolution of what started as an idea in Thailand after the tsunami.

Thank you to each of you for your support of Hands On, the Gulf Coast, and this leadership team. The Gulf Coast and Hands On will continue to need your support in the months and years to come.

Chris de Veer

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Construction Update

We've had some great news in the past couple weeks:
  • The Lee St. house has its Certificate of Occupancy (CO)! Fantastic. We can't wait to celebrate the move in of another home owner.
  • The Ngo Family has the CO. Yes, we had the party before they had the CO, but they're in, sleeping on their own beds now.
  • Lameuse St. has been sheetrocked, taped, mudded, texturized, and painted. It's trucking along.

Sadly, two members of our construction crew left recently: JP and Fletcher. Both were great workers and contributors to the construction team. We, as well as East Biloxi, will miss their presences and their skills. Thank you for your commitment to the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ngo Family House Party

On Monday, April 21 2008, we had the house warming party for the Ngo family who lives at the Bowen Street house we've been working on. Though the house didn't have the final inspection complete at the time of the celebration, it didn't dampen our spirits.

The house looks great! The family is excited! Our AmeriCorps members who have dedicated their time and skills to getting the Ngo family back into their home are excited and happy. The dedication of this home makes this house the 12th house Hands On has completed.

We had help from other organizations. Craig Snow of Hopeforce sent a group of builders from West Virginia our way. They banged out quite a bit of the house and purchased quite a bit of material for the home. We thank them immensely for their efforts. The Amish also helped with the dry wall. I didn't see them hanging it, but by all reports it was quite the sight to see. There was also support from the East Biloxi Coordination Center in the form of site visits from Brandon and Richard, as well as contracting support.

During the house warming party, Mrs. Ngo cooked up a mountain of food. Hand made egg rolls, shrimp fried rice, fried chicken, and grilled beef. She piled it high on Nic's plate. Everyone had a good time.

During a short speech expressing his gratitude, Mr. Ngo said that he was very happy and excited to be back in his home. This was now our home, too. He said we would always have a place with them.

As with each of the builds and rehabs we do, it's a group effort. We're happy the Ngo family is (almost) back in their home.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Go Blue!

April has been a busy month for Hands On. Our Youth Development folks - Danae, Amanda, Jesse, and KC - have been working diligently to pull together volunteers and activities for the Child Abuse Prevention month. In partnership with the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, we have gone Blue.

Go Blue! is the campaign that the Center conducts throughout the month of April. Our good friend Demp Bell, the Wal-Mart Good Works Manager, introduced us to Michelle and Vicki. As part of this campaign, there were events each weekend at Wal-Marts around the Gulf. The events were designed to raise not only awareness of child abuse, but also to raise funds for the Center. We worked in partnership with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to recruit volunteers and man booths and some of the Wal-Marts throughout the month.

The collaboration culminated with the participation in the Family Fair this past weekend. Sponge Bob Square Pants and Blues Clues were the draw for kids and families to the Coliseum. We had a booth manned by some of our AmeriCorps NCCC members and the Youth Development team. There was face painting and planting.

Planting? Yes, one of the options was for kids to fill a cup with top soil and plant the seeds of a plant. Lots of folks came by. I think we even convinced one of the Marines in the booth next to us to get his face painted.

We're happy we could support the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and raise awareness about such a critical issue.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Road to Independence

Though it's been a long time in the works, the transition from program of our national offices in Atlanta and DC to a locally governed organization have truly begun. Though talks about Hands On Gulf Coast becoming and independent affiliate of the Hands On Network (now Points of Light & Hands On Network) have been around ever since I arrived in January 2006, we now have a mandate from the national board of directors to be independent by July 1.

What does independence mean? There are two parts to that answer. First and foremost, it means that Hands On Gulf Coast generates all the funds it needs to operate during the year, without the support of the national office. That means we need to be like every other nonprofit with annual appeals, sponsorships, grants, and fee-for-service options. Your support and continued commitment to the work in the Gulf will be a critical to Hands On Gulf Coast's success.
Second, independence means local governance. There are also two options being explored here. Because it's always a bad idea to start a nonprofit that duplicates the efforts of already established agencies, it's important to conduct an exhaustive survey of the nonprofit landscape, exploring all possibilities for partnership and collaboration before deciding that creating a new organization is best for the community.

We formed a Steering Committee who met for the first time of Tuesday, April 1, to discuss our options for local governance. The United Way of South Mississippi recently started a volunteer center - Volunteer Gulf Coast - with whom we've already worked. Remember Make A Difference Day (Oct 07)? It is logical to enter into a conversation with the United Way to determine whether there is a way to more tighly integrate our operations because of our closely aligned goals for community engagement.

With the United Way talk as context, the Steering Committee meeting was great. Our committee consists of nonprofit and business leaders. Some members we know quite well, others are just getting to know us. Resoundingly, they said there is a need for the services we provide - managed groups of volunteers and volunteer program development. Though we who work here and see the need for volunteer programs in all the nonprofits on the Gulf Coast, it was reassuring to hear our nonprofit partners and business leaders confirm our observations.

With that as our starting point, we asked our Steering Committee members to spread the word and suggest other people who might also be a good addition to the Steering Committee and could potentially turn into initial board members. We're always looking for new contacts and new opportunities to firmly root Hands On Gulf Coast on the Gulf Coast for years to come.

As the process unfolds and evolves, we will continue to keep you posted on developments.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring Break, Week 4

The fourth week of Spring Break has come and gone. As with each of the other weeks, it was a good week of service with diverse projects ranging from surveying East Biloxi to determine the needs of residents, to demolding, to working on some of the houses we're building, to participating in a community cleanup in Moss Point.

This week was a smaller week, with about 50 Spring Breakers from:
  • Unversity of California - Riverside
  • Harvard University
  • SUNY Albany (a Jewish Funds for Justice group)
  • Colorado University, Boulder
For those who opted into the Service Learning package, the panel discussion with members of the Steps Coalition was pretty lively. The panel had representatives from the Fair Housing Coalition, MIRA (Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance), LIFE (Living Independently For Everyone), and NAVASA (National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies). The focus of the discussion was grassroots community organizing in the wake of Katrina. Each of these organizations talked about the challenge of creating an equitable recovery for all.

We thank all the Spring Breakers who came down this year to Biloxi. We're still compiling the impact y'all had over the course of the month. We'll post that as soon as it's ready.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Break, Week 3

So, the third and biggest week of Spring Break came and went. We had over 160 Spring Breakers come during the week. They came from:
  • Xavier University
  • Darmouth College
  • University of Wisonsin, River Falls & Madison campuses
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of Wyoming
  • Iowa State University
  • Hamilton College
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of South Dakota
  • Hamilton College Alumni
Wow! Talk about lines for food and the showers. Still, everyone manage to contribute to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast during their time.

Many worked on education-focused projects, such as tutoring, helping with the Boys & Girls Club after school programs, working with Nichols Elementary's after-school program, making lunch for the teachers at the Center for New Opportunities and Pass Road Elementary, as well as the usual array of projects.

Teaching Guitar

Spring Breakers began the second phase of construction on the Lameuse St house that was started in December 07. The house passed its framing inspection, which meant the insulation and dry wall was ready to roll. Fantastic!

Other projects were working out at Moss Point, helping to prepare the baseball diamonds for use, as well as the not-so-glamorous-but-very-important cleaning of drainage ditches to reduce the risk of flooding during heavy rains and the next hurricane to hit the area.

A little closer to home, out at Gulf Islands National Seashore, volunteers began helping restore bird habitats. Out west, still on the environmental kick, we had volunteers doing live oak restoration in Pass Christian.

One of the other great projects that folks enjoyed was the making and distribution of easter baskets for the elderly. It's something that the residents love and gets our folks connected with the community they came to serve.

It's not all work, though. We had a crawfish boil and bonfire on the beach. We had about 100 people show up, learn to eat crawfish, marvel at the spiciness that a corn cob can absorb, and enjoy the warmth of a fire when the March winds blow.

For the service learning group, we held a panel discussion that focused on education issues. Teachers from Pass Road Elementary and the Center for New Opportunities came to talk to the schools who participated. One of the compelling personal reflections came from Ms. Drakeford, a kindergarten teacher at Pass Rd. Elementary. She said that her kids were 2 and 3 years old when Katrina hit. For the next year and a half to two years, there were no parks and no places for the kids to play. So the kids don't just play spontaneously. They sit around or play on the computer, but they don't run and skip like 5 year olds should.

That observation just brings home how critical each aspect of the work we do is. You can just work on a single aspect of the community's recovery to the neglect of the others. Community is not so much a place, but a state of mind, a concept, a feeling. You can't necessarily touch 'community', but you can see the effects of its presence. We help build those invisible linkages that become the basis for community.

Thank you to everyone who came down during your Spring Break to take part in not only rebuilding the Gulf Coast, but just as importantly building community.

Crawfish Boil

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring Break, Week 2

I'm trying to get ahead of the bow wave of Spring Break. This week, I'll post twice. Once at the relative beginning and once at the relative end. By the time March is complete, I should have this down to a science.

So, this week, we have fewer Spring Break volunteers. Rather than 160+, we have about 120 or so. A new AmeriCorps NCCC team (Eagle 4) arrived on Saturday, overlapping with Silver 3 who has been here for a couple weeks already.

This week we have:
  • Eastfield College
  • E. Kentucky University
  • Texas A&M
  • Truman State University
  • University of Vermont
  • Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Penn State University
We're focusing or service learning efforts on affordable housing this week. That means projects this week have more of a slant toward addressing the issues related to housing. Whether that means you're working in the Interfaith Disaster Task Force (IDTF) warehouse sorting furniture donations, to hanging insulation and drywall in a resident's home, to mucking out storm drains in Moss Point, each of these projects impacts people's ability to live in the area. Though often tedious, each project is important.

Rain continues to throw a monkey wrench in well-laid plans, but we adapt and over come.

Spring Break, Week 1

Thank you to everyone who came down to Hands On Gulf Coast for their Spring Break. For us, the first week in March was the first week of Spring Break. We saw about 165 volunteers from 10 schools. Which schools?

  • The College of William and Mary
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Northeastern University
  • Viterbo
  • The University of Virginia (a.k.a., Mr. Jefferson's University & my alma mater)
  • Chadron State University
  • Regis University
  • James Madison University - winners of the Tuff Stuff Challenge
  • Michigan State University
  • Boston College

Though the week started out with a bit of a drill - tornado threats, tents, and Alternative Spring Break (ASB) volunteers don't mix - and folks were tired, the week went well and we accomplished quite a bit. During the week, we focused on environmental projects. This included everything from removing garbage from Turkey Creek in Gulfport, to cleaning up baseball fields in Moss Point, to cleaning and clearing trails at the Harmony House in Gulfport.

With so many folks in the building, there were of course last minute challenges to over come. However, Delia, our Spring Break planner did a fabulous job preparing and anticipating most of the potential challenges. We at Hands On definitely appreciate that you all chose to put your volunteer efforts to work on the Gulf Coast. As you saw, we still need help down here.

Hopefully, you learned a little more about the South, the challenges the Gulf Coast faces in its recovery from the storm, and met some new, like-minded folks.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Brian, Eddie, Sheli

Today was Brian Deubert's, Eddie Sherman's, and Sheli McNeill's last day with Hands On Gulf Coast. They all contributed immensely to the success of Hands On Gulf Coast during the course of their tenure with us.

Sheli joined us in April 2006, working quietly as a case manager, helping residents recover identity documents, get FEMA trailers, and get materials to rebuild their homes. Sheli was instrumental in preparing and executing the successful Guiding Light project in January 2007. After successfully tackling that challenge, Sheli stepped up to be the AmeriCorps Program Coordinator for Building. She worked tirelessly during her time with us.

Brian arrived in June 2006. He quickly began helping with the fledgling, ad hoc construction work Hands On was struggling to get into. Between various other volunteers, Brian helped roof houses, build Mr. Thornton's house, and work on Mr. George's. He was the Stud House leader when Guiding Light came. Under the tutelage of Eddie, Brian continued to grow in his chosen craft of carpentry.

Eddie arrived in September 2006. Brother of Dan Sherman, Eddie arrived for a couple weeks, but was immediately drawn into the culture and life of Hands On. He began by helping to build Mr. George's house, then managing the Bridge to Biloxi project in October 2006. Under his technical leadership, Hands On was able to prepare three houses for the Guiding Light team in early 2007. For the rest of the year, Eddie trained a team of AmeriCorps members dedicated to building homes along the Gulf Coast. When he left, 12 houses had been completely rebuilt.

The trio of Brian, Sheli, and Eddie shaped the Hands On Gulf Coast construction program into what it is today. They set high standards for craftmanship, quality, and attention to detail, which AmeriCorps construction members always strived to meet.

Thank you to each of you for your contribution to Hands On Gulf Coast and to the broader Gulf Coast community. Best of luck in your next endeavors and see you around Biloxi.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thanks Hands On

Where to begin...
To avoid being entirely too sappy, this will be a quick blog.
It is the end of my official month anniversary at Hands On Gulf Coast and let me just tell you that the experience has been amazing. I am surrounded by caring, fun people in Hands On and the greater community. I would especially like to thank Miss Juanita and Dottie for taking on the mother roles and offer nothing but support and love to those around them.
I came to Hands On with very few expectations, I only knew it was the right thing to do. So far this belief only grows stronger. I have had the opportunity to become part of a community and challenge myself with a group of amazing people. How could I go wrong?
Since I've been in Biloxi, I've participated in two parades (receiving free fried chicken from D'Vines Soulfood in both), helped win the spirit award in a bed race, played with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, celebrated Martin Luther King Day and Mardi Gras properly, and roller skated for the first time in 20 years (and yes, I had several people who were patient enough to hold my hands the entire time!). I can't believe how lucky I am.
Currently, I'm trying to wriggle my way in to a larger community and spread the Hands On goodness. This is one of the few times in my life that I can say I want to do more, I don't want to stop at good enough.
Tomorrow is my first day of Healthy Living classes for the 9 and 10 year olds at Boys and Girls Club. I have a feeling that this class will really challenge me and give me something to work towards. I'm ecstatic. I have so much to learn from the kids. And who knows, I might even inspire a healthier lifestyle in one or two of the kids.
No matter what happens, I am thankful to be on the Gulf Coast.
Here's to new friends, new experiences and a healthier Mississippi!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

1st Annual Mardi Gras Bed Race

This past Saturday, Hands On Gulf Coast participated in the 1st Annual, Mardi Gras Bed Race. It was an event sponsored by Walmart to raise money for the Salvation Army.

We fielded two teams on 200lb metal beds supplied by the Salvation Army. The beds were decorated in typical Hands On fashion, last minute and with ever was available. One bed had the sign, "Be Bold, Fight Mold". The other had me in it, holding onto some sort of strange bed parasol we found in the Spin Cycle.

The race itself was hillarious. There were all sorts of contraptions. Sprint, Keesler, the Police, the Firemen, and about a dozen other groups had a bed in the race. One of the cooler ones was from Landon Building (?). They built a home on a frame. The Air Force guys from Keesler had a well-designed bed with a bar designed to maximize the ease of pushing.

A couple groups hadn't hired the services of an engineer, so their beds fell apart mid-race. The troopers wound up carrying the pieces over the finish line.

Though we didn't win for being the fastest, we certainly did win for being the most spirited. Between the chant,
    When I say Hands On, you say 'Gulf Coast' ...
    Hands On! ... Gulf Coast!!
    Hands On!! ... Gulf Coast!! ....
repeated ad nauseum and "Be Bold! ... Fight Mold!! Be Bold! Fight Mold!!" there was little chance for anyone else to win.

Thanks to everyone who came out Saturday morning. Also a special thanks to Amanda and Fletcher who sat at a table with maccaroni and string to keep kids entertained on the Town Green. Here's to next year's winning team.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Hi Everyone,

Thanks to those who participated in the challenge yesterday! Though the email was on short notice, we appreciate the swift and generous response. You can see how much we raised yesterday ($830) by day's end by going to the Hands On Gulf Coast Cause page.

Though the challenge period ends today at 12pm Pacific, Hands On Gulf Coast and the residents of the Gulf Coast will continue to need your support. Please do continue to volunteer and lend your financial support to our organization. Your donations support us in our work to rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Director, Hands On Gulf Coast

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Facebook Giving Challenge

Hi Everyone,

You will all probably be receiving (or have already received) an email with the opening line:

    Have 10 minutes? Have $10? We need your help!

It's true. We do need your support. It's how we keep the lights on, the cars driving, and the hammers swinging to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Facebook and The Case Foundation have teamed up to offer an interesting fundraising opportunity. Nonprofits can win money by having the most unique donors give money to a cause in a given day. The minimum donation is $10. Read more about it.
What we need you to do:

  • Go to Hands On Gulf Coast Cause on Facebook.
  • Click Donate.

    • If you're not on Facebook already, you'll create an account, then you can donate.

    • if you're already on Facebook, log in and proceed.

  • Donate at least $10 today, January 31, 2008 by 3pm Eastern, 12pm Pacific

It's important you donate today January 31st. It's the last day of the Challenge and it's important to have the most donors in a single day. You can see today's current leader on the Hands On Gulf Coast Causes page.

In addition to your generous donations, we could win $1,000 on the 31st by having the most unique donors. Please encourage your friends and family to support us, too.

The overall challenge has almost run its 50-day length. Prizes ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 will be awarded to causes with the most unique donors over the Challenge period. Currently, 600 unique Hands On Gulf Coast donors could put us in 5th place.

Please support Hands On Gulf Coast and help us to continue helping those on the Gulf Coast who are still in need.

Thank you for your support.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MLK Day 2008

MLK Day 2008 was a great, great day. We walked in the parade, showed a flim and held a discussion, worked on service projects, and had a blast at John Henry Beck Park. We probably had about 2,000 - 3,000 people roll through the park during the afternoon. Talk about a dream come true for Hands On.

None of this would have been possible without some key partnerships with The Knight Foundation, Clear Channel (via 92.5 The Beat), and the Beau Rivage. The Knight Foundation supported the film and the service projects as a way to get a diverse group of community leaders pulled together for a conversation about issues that are important to the community. It was the kick-off for a year-long series of activities to engage the community and attempt to get them more involved.

Clear Channel helped make the event in the park possible. They brought in folks to help with activities for the kids, held a talent show, and broadcast live from the Park. You should check out the photos on their website http://www.925fmthebeat.com/. Click on Day in the Park.

The Beau Rivage generously donated space and equipment to show the film and catering for the event. It was a fabulous space.

It started as a very chilly morning. As worried as we were about how the day was going to go, there really wasn't much to do but let the day unfold and see what it brought. I am definitely a worrier, so I was nervous until my part with the film at the Beau was finished.

The parade was great. Though somehow we weren't on the list of floats, we managed to get in the front of the parade. We walked the route in about 45 minutes. The crowd looked a bit thinner as compared to last year, but it was still a great turn out. Hands On folks cannot help but have fun. We threw beads, superballs, and candy to the bystanders. It was sorta like a Mardi Gras parade, but different. Our folks carried big wooden hands painted blue. In white ink, a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr sat in the palm.

Naturally, everyone was so excited to throw beads that we were out by the time we got to the main crowd near Yankee Stadium. Oh well. How can you frown on fun? Perhaps folks will remember for next year ...

As soon as our float finished the parade route, I rushed to the Beau Rivage for the film showing and discussion. We didn't have the turn out I had hoped for, but we still had a lively discussion. We had folks from the Beau Rivage's Diversity team come to participate in the discussions, as well as Adele Lyons from the Knight Foundation who helped support the day's events. The film we watched was King: Man of Peace in a Time of War. I highly recommend the film. It is striking to see how so many issues that were being discussed in the 60's - housing, a war, equality - are still relevant today, particularly on the Coast.

Because I was at the film discussion, I didn't make it to the service projects, but we landscaped a resident's house and made murals for one of our partners, The Village. We love The Village for the work they do with the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. They just moved to a new building, so we were happy to be able to decorate the walls for them with some art they can take with them to the permanent digs when they become available. Thanks to Anne, Caitlin, and everyone else who helped with that.

Will led the landscaping project at Ms. Ethel's house. We finished her house last September and had the Guiding Light come down for a little move-in celebration. We were excited about the opportunity to finish the yard.

At John Henry Beck Park, we were amazed by what we saw. During the day, folks wandered over from the Battle of the Bands and hung out in the park. We worked with Clear Channel and 92.5 The Beat to put on an afternoon of celebration in honor of Dr. King. There was a talent show and a performance by soul patrol. There were activities for the kids, as well as music broadcast from the park all afternoon.

When it was said and done, there were probably 2,500 to 3,000 people who rolled through the park. When I got up on stage at the end of the day, all I could see was a sea of people. It was exactly what we dreamt about when the park was restored in the hot summer of 2006. Thanks to all those who put in hard work then and over the past year to make John Henry Beck Park a great place to people to come play and enjoy themselves.

Park DancingThanks to everyone who made MLK Day a great day for Hands On Gulf Coast. We look forward to improving on all aspects of it for next year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MLK 2008 - The Day's Activities

So, MLK Day 2008 is just around the corner.  The Gulf Coast has been designated as one of the expansion markets for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which means that CNCS is very supportive increasing the participation in the day of service.  Hmm, that's a lot of words, let's put it in a slogan.  "It's a day on, not a day off."  The idea behind the day of service is to get more people to volunteer, echoing Dr Martin Luther King, Jr's words:

 "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."

With that as the basis for our day's activities, we began planning how to initiate the first MLK Day of Service.  Though there has been a Coast-wide celebration of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr for over 20 years, there hasn't been a day of service.  The planning for the event has had some challenges and bumps along the road, but in the end, I think we're going to have a solid program that dovetails the existing MLK celebrations and highlights another aspect of King's teachings.

What is our program?  We're going to help out where we can by supplying volunteers to some of the activities on the weekend sponsored by the Coast-wide celebration committee.  On Monday, the 21st, we'll march in the parade, marking the third year Hands On has had a float.

In the afternoon, beginning at 1pm, we will have service projects running.  Folks are encouraged to come out to work on volunteer service projects around East Biloxi ranging from painting a mural to working on a home rebuilding project to landscaping a resident's yard.

In addition to the physically active projects, we have a documentary film and panel-led discussion also beginning at 1pm.  The Beau Rivage has graciously offered space to show the film and entice folks with refreshments like cookies and coffee.  Yum.  Space is limited for both the film showing and the volunteer service projects, so folks on the Gulf Coast interested in participating should contact us via our office phone (228.257.6094) or via email (info@handsongulfcoast.org).  Let us know you're interested in the MLK Day of Service opportunities.

The day's events aren't limited to service projects and a film discussion.  No Hands On event would be complete without an activity in the park.  We have partnered with Clear Channel to bring a Day in the Park.  It's really just the afternoon because we want folks to support the Battle of the Bands that will be going on in Yankee Stadium.  Once that's done, though, folks should come to John Henry Beck Park to see what we have planned.  There will be activities for the youth that focus on Dr King and his message, as well as a youth talent show.  There will also be performances by Soul Patrol and the Zulu Men's Choir from New Orleans.

We're excited and looking forward to the Day.  Come join us!  Remember it's a Day On, not a Day Off.  And if you're not on the Gulf Coast, check out what's going on in your community and volunteer!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Enneagram Training

It's late at night and I should be asleep getting precious rest before my appearance on the WLOX morning show to talk about our MLK Day of Service Activities.  Instead, the day's training on the Enneagram personality types swirls in my mind making it difficult to turn my brain off. 

The staff wanted to learn how to communicate better with one another and build a more effective team.  I mentioned this to my boss and she said that Ellen Ferber, one of Points of Light & Hands On Network's Regional VPs, was certified in the Enneagram personality type training.   We all took the test, a batter of 145 binary questions, each answer corresponding to one of the nine personality types identified in this personality framework.  Ellen came down to tell us about the results of our tests and guide us through the process of learning how to use it in our work life. She described each of the types, their characteristics, and how they interact with those around them.

What's neat about the Enneagram method (? is it a method?) is that it provides a framework understanding what you need for personal growth, as well as a framework for understanding interpersonal dynamics.Though your type never changes, I happen to be a 9 - a Peacemaker - your state of personal development does affect the outward appearance of your personality.  When I'm on my game, I appear like the 3 - the Acheiver; I set goals and hit them.  When I lapse into a black state, I go to the bad side of a 6 - The Loyalist - where I become paranoid and paralyzed with fear.  The same holds true for each of the numbers.  There is a flow of energy between the personality types that manifests itself at various times.  There are three triads each with a different underlying energy or motivation.  8, 9, and 1 are in the gut triad, meaning they filter everything through their instinctive reactions.  2 through 4 are in the heart triad and look at things in terms of relationships, while the 5, 6, and 7's filter their experiences through the head.  

I know I haven't done the extensively researched and refined methodology for describing personality all that well, so you should probably go to the Enneagram Institute's website to learn more.  Or call Ellen.  It's all very fascinating and amazingly accurate. Though one method of describing personality is probably as good as another, when you find the one you like, a lot of dynamics and tensions between people can easily be demystified because you now understand what the underlying motivations for folks are. Very exciting.

What's most important to Hands On is that we had the training.  All the staff was present and engaged.  From the anecdotal comments folks gave me, everyone got something from the training.  I think this will help us build a stronger team.  We have a better idea of how each person sees the world, how they interact it, and what drives them to be who they are. 

I've got lots of ideas and I think the rest of the staff does, too.  So, I'm excited.  Thanks, Ellen for a great training!!!  We really appreciate it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Orientation, Over

Well, AmeriCorps Orientation #1 of 2008, the one for our first batch of full-time members, ended Friday afternoon. It seemed like it went well. We learned from last year and put significant energy and time into making a better orientation experience for folks. We'll see what the evaluations say.

This year, we were lucky to have Megan Latimer from the Atlanta Office come down to talk about the "Hands On" model. We talk about that often around here - it's the model we use to ensure that volunteers: 1) have a great experience, 2) are used to the utmost of the abilities, and 3) are hooked into coming back and bringing a friend.

Megan discussed some of the sociological, psychological, and philosophical underpinnings for the way Hands On engages volunteers. At the most basic level, the "Hands On" model of volunteer engagement is a form of asset-based community development. Rather than focusing on needs and inadvertently setting up cycles of dependence, Hands On looks to help the community determine what it wants to do (a vision) and helps create the pathways to acheive those goals. We become catalysts for change.

That's heady stuff, I know, but I was talking with Dave (yes, the Dog :) about the session. he said he learned so much and was ready to start implementing some of what he learned the next time he was on the job site. It's a pretty powerful endorsement for the material, but also the presenter, Megan.

Not only did people learn about the model, but they got to see it in action when they went for their half-day service projects. That was another of Dave's comments. He learned about how Hands On creates volunteer service opportunities and then saw it in action when he arrived at the work site and Eddie (our Construction Manager) immediately provided an orientation to the job, talked about the home owner, and provided the context for the home they were about to work on.

Nelson, K.C., and Crew on Lee St.

Everyone did a great job with orientation! Caitlin, Sheli, and Sara spent a considerable amount of time incorporating what we all learned from last year, continueing to build a strong program. The AmeriCorps members each seemed to learn something, which is always a bonus. I know I'm excited about the team that has been assembled and all that we are poised to accomplish this year.

A/C Orientation on 11 Jan 08

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Menagerie - A/C Orientation Day 1

Today was the first day of orientation. What a day it was. We talked about the history of Hands On and the basics of AmeriCorps. More importantly, we got to know one another through a few interesting ice breakers.

Early on it was an introduction of name, where you're from, how you heard about Hands On, and of course the Question. Well, not The Question, but a random question that becomes the day's question. This morning, it was "What was your favorite sitcom." Not necessarily as good as pirates or ninjas ... just sayin'. Just sayin'.

The real fun was with the animal name game. Stand in a circle, say your name, the name of an animal that starts with the first letter of your name, then make the noise of that animal. That's the easy part. Go around in the circle and you need to remember the names and animals of the people who went before you. We came up with some interesting animals and sounds.

Not everyone could join us for this morning fun, so tomorrow, we'll make them give their animals. Here are those AmeriCorps members at the early morning orientation:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy 2008

Hi All,

Welcome back for another year of volunteer service on the Gulf Coast. We had a bit of a break to reflect and prepare for the upcoming year when the 2007 AmeriCorps program year ended at Thanksgiving. Now, we're almost ready for all the challenges awaiting us in 2008.

The big thing is that AmeriCorps orientation starts tomorrow, 7 Jan 07, for roughly 25 people. Yes, Program Year 2008 starts tomorrow. OK, technically, it starts on the 8th and the 7th is only for the folks who are going to live with us, but the AmeriCorps members have already started arriving - those who aren't continuing service from last year that is.

We're excited to have everyone returning and arriving for the first time. Through out the year, our AmeriCorps members will build houses, tutor kids, educate the community on various issues, spruce up green spaces, work on art projects with kids, lead Alternative Spring Breakers from colleges around the country, and participate in a few days of service.

It's a packed schedule. Both Eddie and Sheli - along with our new construction supervisors Brian and John - are ready to build a bunch of houses for residents along the Gulf Coast. With some unique partnerships with corporations interested in helping the Gulf Coast get back on their feet, the building crew is ready to roll.

On the community side, Caitlin has been working diligently to develop partnerships with other agencies along the Gulf where members can develop projects and serve the Gulf Coast residents in a different way. Building homes is cool, visible, and critical recovery, but so too are the many services that AmeriCorps members who work in the community area. Kids need enrichment activities and adults need to have opportunities to give back to their own communities.

That's exactly what AmeriCorps members on the community side will be doing. They will work in or with partner agencies to develop sustainable volunteer programs that engage residents of the Gulf Coast. Lofty stuff for recent high school and college grads.

So, an exciting year of building and transition lays ahead of us. Come join us.