Monday, September 19, 2005

Volunteer Blogging: Other Perspectives

Thanks For The Memories To:

The Jawa Report

Turns out that Dr. Rusty Shackleford isn't just my Blogfather, he's a fellow Katrina Relief volunteer. And while he wasn't a "first responder", he has been helping out closer to the "front lines" than I did. He has words for those criticizing the response efforts that arer as strong as mine were for those criticizing the relief efforts.

The Common Room

The Headmistress had kind words for me last week, and now she's directed my attention to the Blog of Dr. Goodheart, who has me and Rusty both beat in spades when it comes to putting his ass where his mouth is.

Volunteer Blogging: IntroRetrospection

Well, it's been 61 hours since I ended my last shift as a volunteer at the Red Cross Shelter at ChristChurch Baptist Fellowship, and it's 24 hours until that same shelter starts its last day of operation. I've had time to rest, recuperate, recreate, and reflect. I have memories that will last me a lifetime, though for some of them, "haunt" might be a better term. and I've definitely formed some opinions of the relief effort.

I'll never forget the lady (whose name I didn't even get) who ran from the chair next to me crying "Thank you Jesus! My baby's alive, I've got to find him!" or E., who still didn't know on Friday if the same was true of his son. His quiet dignity as he went about the business of living in the face of daunting obstacles was an inspiration to me. His friendliness and faith renewed my own.

It will be a long time before I'll forget the sense of purpose and significance I felt doing something as menial as emptying trash cans, or the satisfaction I got from guiding someone through the process of applying for assistance. People are better off thatn they were before we entered one anothers' lives. That's not something I can usually say after a day at the office.

Ironically enough, I doubt I'm as qualified as even the remotest blogger in Alaska to speak to the first response efforts, upon which so much of the attention has been focused. Quite honestly, this last week I lacked the time or energy to pay attention to it. But I CAN speak to the follow-on relief efforts, and perhaps there are parallels to be drawn. That is something that will be discussed for some time, I'm sure.

Quite frankly, on an organizational level, the efforts (even those of myself and my fellow volunteers) left something to be desired. It's not that we didn't want to help, and it's not that we didn't have help to offer, but the actual process of delivering that help was chaotic. The problem was that there was no central clearing house of information that could direct an individual to every source of asssistance available to them. My last day at the shelter was the FIRST day it was visited by a FEMA official. It was Wednesday or Thursday of LAST WEEK when a representative of the AFL-CIO showed up to let us know they were assisting with job placement for displaced union members. On Thursday, I helped one gentleman fill out his LA state unemployment form, when a question on it caused a lightbulb to go on over my head. I ran a Google search, and became the first volunteer at the shelter who knew that the VA is also providing job assistance, for displaced veterans. Texas HUD, god bless them, is willing to foot the bill for rent for qualified applicants (and almost all Katrina evacuees qualify), but it takes 2 weeks to process an application, and we didn't know this until Thursday -- less than a week before people have to be out of the shelter. Many national and international corporations offered relocation and assistance to their employees, but unless those employees think to look that info up, it would have been very difficult for their companies to find them.

I started thinking that what's needed is a database -- run either by an organization like the Red Cross, or by FEMA, that lists all of the different private, local, state, and federal agencies that provide assistance, what kind of assistance they provide, to whom they offer it, and how one requests it. This database should be available to frontline relief workers, perhaps through FEMA and/or a select number of private agencies (RC for example). The workers should have a computer questionnaire they can use to screen each victim -- are you a veteran? A union member? Who was your employer? Did you rent or own your home? Did you have homeowners insurance? etc. etc., and based on the answers given, the database is searched and all relevant assistance for that victim is brought up.

One other thought on the relief efforts: I have heard a few people, both bloggers and non-bloggers, make comments to the effect that the relief efforts are in vain because it will just turn the evacuees (who are all single mothers, according to these same comments) into welfare recipients.

Kiss my white volunteer ass.

I've been around these people for a week. And while it's possible that my shelter was non-representative, I can tell you that most of the evacuees *I* encountered were families, and MOST of them wanted jobs as much as they wanted immediate aid. And many of them already had jobs by the time I showed up.

To be sure, there were some who seemed interested only in the checks they could get from the Red Cross or FEMA. But to paint all of the evacuees with a broad brush would be unfair. They wanted a leg up, not a hand out.

It was quite a week. If I had it to do all over again, I would. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to help. My thanks to all of you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. And especially, my thanks to:

The Feared Redhead for caring for The Lad, for busting her ass to keep our house, and for making it a home to return to;

Uncle Scott and Aunt Joyce, May, and Kimberly, for helping TFR with childcare while I was gone;

Corrine for the donation of the Frequent Flyer miles that got me to Houston;

The Sister In Law for donating clothing and cleaning supplies, for meeting me at the train station and driving me to the airport, and then for letting me rest at your house before heading home yesterday;

The guests of Gervais Salon & Spa who contributed cash for travel expenses and the purchase of supplies for the shelter;

Vulture Six and the Vulturette, for being such great hosts and transportation, and for the good company every evening;

Mr. Priapus, Darth Apathy, Vulture 6's Brother, Tito, John, and all the other Houstonians who showed me a great time all week;

The Congregation of Hosanna Christian Fellowship, my home congregation, for paying for my hepatitis vaccinations, and for praying for me;

The congregation of ChristChurch Baptist Fellowship, for turning your facilities into the shelter where I felt so useful;

The Red Cross volunteers who worked next to me and gave me such encouragement and camaraderie;

The guests of the shelter who showed me how to face adversity with dignity and humanity.