News: A Working Vacation

Skipping the beach to help in post-Katrina New Orleans

 
Jared M. Holder


Ryan Derrow (left) and Joe Hansbauer of Give Back Cincinnati.



While many people are heading to amusement parks, camping trips in the mountains or other traditional destinations, a group of 50 Cincinnatians is heading to a construction site for their R and R.

Members of Give Back Cincinnati (

 
Jared M. Holder


Ryan Derrow (left) and Joe Hansbauer of Give Back Cincinnati.



While many people are heading to amusement parks, camping trips in the mountains or other traditional destinations, a group of 50 Cincinnatians is heading to a construction site for their R and R.

Members of Give Back Cincinnati (www.givebackcincinnati.org), United Way Young Leaders Society, YP Habitat of Cincinnati and other young professionals are heading to New Orleans to help build a new neighborhood.

"It's a different way to spend a week of vacation," says Joe Hansbauer, chair of the advisory board of Give Back Cincinnati. "It's not laying around on a beach, but it's meeting new people on the trip, affecting the lives of people for a long time after you're gone. There's not a whole lot else you can do vacation-wise that you can say that when you're done."

Hansbauer has firsthand experience with service travel; he participated in Give Back's first international service trip in 2005.

"I've gotten addicted to service travel," he says. "My initial involvement was the Ecuador trip last October. That experience was just amazing all the way around — meeting new people, the work itself, meeting the homeowners. It was a lot of hard work, but it was just good fun."

Katrina changes plans
Give Back, a nonprofit organization with a mission of "enhancing Cincinnati's communities through activities of volunteerism, while fostering the development of young leadership through participation," was planning two service trips outside the United States for 2006 until New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The group boasts a membership of 2,500 young professionals and, although they define the age range of their members as 18 to 35, they welcome anyone interested in participating. The conventional goal of any business organization still applies: networking as a key to professional development. But these people are committed to thinking globally and acting locally. That prompted them to participate in the Katrina Collaboration, an initiative to help provide support for the survivors of the hurricane, and promoted the decision to make one of the service trips "local."

The three phases of the collaboration began with a short-term "immediate response" of fundraising efforts for relief organizations. Phase two consisted of training to prepare volunteers to assist with local disasters. The final phase, referred to as "recovery and rebuilding," takes the form of assisting Habitat for Humanity-New Orleans and the Baptist Crossroads Foundation in building 40 new homes in the 10 weeks between June 5 and Aug. 18.

The Cincinnati volunteers, many leaving behind spouses and air-conditioned offices, will join another 150 volunteers scheduled to work the week of Aug. 8. Approximately 3,000 volunteers from more than 30 states are helping in the construction of the three-bedroom homes.

Each person paid $200 for the opportunity to sweat through construction during hurricane season and is required to serve on one of the committees such as fundraising, cultural and logistics.

The reasons for participating range from wanting to meet new people and a dedication to community service to more personal reasons.

"Katrina had a huge impact on my family on my partner's side," says Mac McCoy, a member of the management team for United Way Young Leaders Society (www.uwgc.org/index.cfm). "Jonathan's middle sister, my sister-in-law, had to flee their house with their kids. They're back in their house now, but her husband's business was destroyed. He works for a small company. They essentially had to lay off everyone except a core team of people, and they've been slowly trying to rebuild. One of Jonathan's uncles lost his house completely. Fortunately they didn't lose any family members, but the photo albums, wedding mementos — gone."

While Jonathan Alexander has been able to return several times to New Orleans (see "Coming Home," issue of March 1), McCoy hasn't been south since December 2005.

"I want to do more than send money," he says.

Not a bystander
Just showing up is huge, according to Hansbauer, who says visitors are sorely needed. The 50 volunteers who are sharing rooms will fill more than half of the St. Ann Marie Antoinette Hotel (www.stannmarieantoinette.com), and evening social events will give volunteers an opportunity to support the local economy. Fundraising events such as a Mardi Gras party and a July 21 silent auction were as much about promoting the opportunity for people to travel to New Orleans as they were about raising money for expenses. Hansbauer breaks into a huge smile when he reports that all of the expenses of the group are covered and a cash donation will also be possible.

Nannie Reed, a Mobile, Ala. native and member of YP Habitat of Cincinnati (www.cincinnati-habitat.org/yp/ chfh_youngProfessionals.html), is looking forward to the side trips as much as the construction. She wants to see what friends and family have been describing.

"My sister said, 'When you go there, it looks a Third World country.' Not in the tourist areas, but in the areas where people live, it's like the hurricane happened yesterday," Reed says. "That was powerful for me. My friends who live there say this is where they live and this is where they're from. It's not so easy, and not just financially, to just get up and leave your entire life behind."

Reed hopes to visit with friends and family while she's in New Orleans, maybe even inviting them to join the new friends she hopes to make when they visit local watering holes. She says her family has given her mixed reviews about her involvement.

"Some members are like, 'That is so noble,' " Reed says. "Others members are like, 'You do know it's like a war zone down there — the National Guard is down there.' It's a little disheartening because it indicates the level of desperation. And when you know the city the way it was ... you know that it's not New Orleans."

That isn't going to dissuade her, partly because she wants to make a statement with her participation.

"I'd like to challenge people to move past their comfort zones and to be a solution, not an indifferent bystander," Reed says. "This is also for me, to challenge myself."



When the bus for New Orleans leaves Aug. 5, CityBeat will be on board to document the project and the stories of the participants.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.