After Katrina, we here in South Mississippi were grateful and amazed by the numbers of volunteers who rushed to our aid. Now the federal government says more volunteers than ever are working in hurricane affected areas along the Gulf Coast.
The Corporation for National and Community Service said in the first year after Katrina, a historic number of Americans - 550,000 - volunteered to help. Officials say from September of 2006 to now, a whopping 660,000 people have given their time. That totals 14 million hours of service.
Some volunteers talked about what drives them. Presidential Volunteer Service Award winners Lucille Bennett and Amy DeHuff say they find joy in putting the interests of others ahead of their own. Bennett has put in more than 1,000 volunteer hours in the hard hit East Biloxi neighborhood where she's spent her whole life. Amy DeHuff came to South Mississippi from Brooklyn after Katrina to help and never left.
"It's sort of been the start of a new life almost," said DeHuff. "It's just been a different way of experiencing community."
Bennett said, "It feels great just to have volunteered to be there for them when they didn't have any hope."
The Corporation for National Community Service believes the increase in volunteers is because of people returning home and sharing their experiences, more college student participation, and better local support systems.
C.E.O. David Eisner said, "What seems to have made the difference is more capacity within the non-profit community to supervise, manage, feed, house the volunteers. A greater capacity seems to have led to more volunteers in the area."
Volunteers believe our country is largely one of compassion.
"No nation has the kind of volunteering ethic that we have here in the United States," said Eisner. "To see that even after the national media begins to, not forget, but lessen its focus on the Gulf Coast, and even after the sense of urgency begins to go away, Americans remain focused and determined that the Gulf Coast should come back strong and healthy. We see that in the steadiness of the volunteers."
The Corporation For National and Community Service oversees the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs.