September 20, 2006
by Bradley Center
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A complete, edited transcript is now available of the September 20 Bradley Center panel discussion "Service in the Storm":
September 20, 2006 • 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.
The Betsy and Walter Stern Conference Center
Program and Panel
Welcome by the Bradley Center ’s WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
MALCOLM JONES, city attorney for Pass Christian, Miss.
DIANN PAYNE, Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service
KEVIN BROWN, Trinity Christian Community in New Orleans
KIMBERLY REESE, Xavier University
NOAH HOPKINS, AmeriCorps*NCCC in St. Bernard Parish, La.
Without doubt, Hurricane Katrina highlighted the deficiencies of many American public institutions. This story has dominated the national headlines. But it’s also clear that America’s tradition of voluntarism and civic renewal—embodied in federal and state service programs as well as in local, grassroots, often faith-based groups—came through the storm with its reputation intact, if not enhanced. On September 20, 2006, Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal brought some of the leaders of the service communities up from the Gulf Coast to tell the stories one doesn’t get from the news media. Panelists included Malcolm Jones, city attorney for Pass Christian, Miss., Diann Payne of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Kevin Brown of the Trinity Christian Community in New Orleans, Kimberly Reese, director of service learning at Xavier University, New Orleans, and Noah Hopkins, team leader of AmeriCorps*NCCC in St. Bernard Parish, La. The Bradley Center’s own William Schambra served as the discussion’s moderator.
Malcolm Jones, acting mayor of Pass Christian, Mississippi when Katrina struck, was the first speaker to tell his story. Katrina left his city of 6,500 with few public services, only a quarter of its structures, none of its businesses, and no way to communicate with the outside world. "It's not a life that I thought I would (ever) live," Jones described. "It was amazing and surreal every day."
AmeriCorps and NCCC and VISTA and several faith-based organizations came to the aid of Jones' town and others - and stayed. At a time when Jones feared that the disaster would overwhelm the city, and state and federal agency representatives came and went, the commitment of AmeriCorps volunteers allowed him to focus on restoring city functions while they set up a base camp, trained and managed volunteers, and organized debris removal and related tasks. It was a perfect match of great need and great aid that restored Jones' hope and led him make a resolution: "This will happen someplace else, whether it will be another natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or some other thing?and …I want to see Mississippi load up and drive up to wherever we've got to go…. [W]e will come, …and we will help …because that's who we are."
Diann Payne is executive director of the Jackson County Civic Action Committee of Mississippi. She was appointed to the Mississippi Commission on Volunteer Service by Governor Haley Barbour in 2004, and in the wake of Katrina was appointed to serve on the governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal. From the perspective of a veteran of both the nonprofit community and government coordinating commissions, Payne reiterated the magnitude of the destruction?recovery from which, by FEMA estimates, will take a minimum of twelve years. But Payne also affirmed the strength of spirit of the people of Mississippi. "Katrina brought (an) opportunity for us to show really what Mississippi is about," she said. Mississippians are a "thankful and grateful" people who will "work together to rebuild our communities all along the coast."
Kevin Brown is community organizer and director of Trinity Christian Community, a small faith-based organization serving New Orleans in numerous capacities. (He is also chaplain to the NBA's New Orleans Hornets!) After Katrina struck, Brown snuck back into the city using forged papers and began to rebuild his life, his organization, and his community. At the urging of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Brown agreed to host one hundred AmeriCorps members, a $1.8 million commitment, at a time when his organization had lost most of its sources of income - and the word "Christian" in its name often deterred others.
Brown estimates that the return on this investment to date, given the work done by the 2,200 volunteers they and their partners organized and led, has been $13,924,476.75. "This is one of the greatest untold stories of the storm, this national service thing, people showing up and building the capacity of organizations like mine." Brown told the audience. "Without national service… without that boost, that capacity-building, and without their believing in us - believing that this little inner-city, faith-based organization could do something on a grander scale, we would not have accomplished this thing…. We are more resilient, and stronger, and capable of far more than we know," he concluded.
Kimberly Reese is assistant dean of students at Xavier University of Louisiana and director of Xavier's Center for Student Leadership and Service, which oversees the university's efforts to engage student and community volunteers in restoring Xavier University and the most damaged neighborhoods in Greater New Orleans. She spoke as both a victim of the storm and one whose work with young people gave her a familiarity with the national service community - and an insider's perspective on the rebuilding efforts that sprang from it. Reese had been familiar with AmeriCorps*NCCC before Katrina struck, but as she told the audience, "I had never seen them in action." AmeriCorps deployment to Xavier University gave Reese the opportunity to observe how deep the "millennial generation's" purported commitment to community service and volunteerism really ran. "I always believed in the power (of civic engagement)," Reese stated. "But never before to this magnitude."
Finally, millennial generation member Noah Hopkins spoke about his experience with national service as a team leader for the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC, or "N-Triple-C") Southeast Campus, based in Charleston, SC. Before serving on this panel, Hopkins had just completed a five week assignment at the Camp Hope volunteer center in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. He and his team managed camp operations and coordinated the home-gutting operation for the parish.
For Noah and many of the young people - his peers - with whom he worked, what began as good idea for a year (an AmeriCorps assignment) became a lifelong commitment and a desire "to create a movement out of service. "One of the most profound experiences of working at (the) camp (was)… getting to talk with and work with …volunteers (from around the country), and the thing that you're bound by is the desire to serve, the desire to help."
AmeriCorps trains its members, college students ages 18-24, to lead teams of outside volunteers for up to one year. Some AmeriCorps members such as Noah return to service after graduation and, in turn, train and lead teams of AmeriCorps members. Hopkins' initial AmeriCorps experience helped him to focus his studies and become a student leader. As excited as he was to achieve the goal of graduating from college, his AmeriCorps experience shaped him and he confessed that he "was always more excited about returning to NCCC as a team leader to help facilitate that same experience I had for other people." And he did.
Session Several members of the audience are directly involved in the national service movement here in Washington, and their questions touched upon the political debate surrounding it: Does having "paid volunteers" really foster a commitment to service? The answer: It is clear that current and past AmeriCorps members make up an army of volunteers who are steadfast in their commitment to service. Questions then turned to how this group can best be mobilized, especially in the wake of funding cuts. And: Should national service be mandated? (Responses were mixed.)
Other members of the audience asked what they could do to help. In response, panelists emphasized the proven value of local knowledge and resources, though they are often ignored by large nonprofits and foundations. Moreover, their experience has taught them the absolute necessity of having relationships between donors and grantees in place before disaster strikes. For the current drive to rebuild and recover, panelists suggested sending down scouts to talk to people (them, for example), find out where the need is, and locate effective organizations with which to foster ongoing relationships. (Please see the section "Featured Resources, Organizations, and Contacts," below, for a list of resources and contacts.) Diann Payne also suggested consulting with and funding state and local long-term recovery committees. Finally, Brown, Jones, and Reese described the need for a network of skilled volunteers - electricians, plumbers, etc. - able to make long-term commitments.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at email@example.com.
Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal aims to explore the usually unexamined intellectual assumptions underlying the grantmaking practices of America’s foundations and provide practical advice and guidance to grantmakers who seek to support smaller, grassroots institutions in the name of civic renewal.
Click here to view the full list of Speeches & Testimony.
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