Volunteer Group Needs More Local Help

For more than two years, a volunteer organization has relied mostly on out-of-state visitors to help with Katrina Recovery. Now, Hands On Gulf Coast says not as many visitors are coming to help and the group is asking more South Mississippi residents to pitch in.

California. New Jersey. Virginia. Volunteers from several states are building a new house in East Biloxi to replace one destroyed by Katrina.

Construction Manager Eddie Sherman said, "Last month we had one job with 11 different states represented between 12 people."

Even with all that help, Hands On Gulf Coast officials say the further out we get from the hurricane, the fewer hands there are for construction projects. That's part of the reason the organization is appealing to locals.

"What that means is we're going to be looking to create volunteer opportunities for folks who live along the Gulf Coast to work in their own communities," said Chris deVeer, Director of Hands On Gulf Coast. "Whether that's working in a tutoring program that's happening after school in a school in their neighborhood or working with the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum.

Maintaining a community garden at John Henry Beck Park is one of the projects in which Hands On would like to see more local volunteers get involved. They say the key is finding things that working people can do in their spare time.

"Most of the volunteer work, it's almost like an eight to five job," said deVeer. "It's a big commitment and most folks have jobs and they can't do that. So really the way that we create a local volunteer program is to make it flexible. We call it episodic, non-committal. So it can be an opportunity that happens after school, after work, on the weekend."

He says it takes more than hammers and nails to rebuild a community.

"Building houses is one aspect of things for the recovery, but a house doesn't become a home until you feel like you're connected. And by volunteering and working and meeting other people and working with some of the agencies that you care about, that helps create the connections."

Hands On Gulf Coast is also partnering with other community service organizations to help them get more volunteers. If you would like to volunteer call 228-257-6094.