This review is for Lower Nine.org in Arabi/New Orleans. Not Boothbay.
Having been involved in a number of volunteer experiences, both locally and away on sites, I set out to New Orleans to try to contribute my efforts to help out with the continuing relief efforts post-Katrina, ending up with my joining the organization, Lower Nine.
While their intentions were good, my experiences with them left me somewhat frustrated, as I felt that my time spent there was not as productive as I would have liked.
Having recently spent some time doing similar volunteer efforts in Long Island post Hurricane Sandy, I was fortunate enough to have worked with an organization that I felt really represented a very high standard (NECHAMA), - as it turns out, they are an award-winning non-profit, so perhaps direct comparisons may be a bit unfair.
Nevertheless, having that basis of comparison leads me to suggest a number of constructive criticisms that Lower Nine could and should consider.
To begin with, while I understand that many improvements may be dependent on budgets, some changes – both in terms of work productivity as well as the housing/living environment - could be made very easily.
During my 10-day stay, I had some issues with how the volunteers and the work itself were managed. Group leaders were very hands-on, but not as helpful with delegating tasks. Having spent a considerable portion of my life doing physical work outdoors, I was eager to get started, but was frustrated with the lack of direction and appropriate supplies available. As a result, too much time was spent unproductively. As a volunteer, my overriding goal was to end each day exhausted, but fulfilled that my work made a difference. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. Perhaps I should have voiced my frustration a bit more while I was there, but the organizational hierarchy didn’t seem to be readily available for this.
As for the living situation, our housing was located near where we were working in the ninth ward. While I certainly wasn’t looking for anything close to luxury accommodations, I was expecting something similar to a cheap, but welcoming youth hostel – a basic and clean environment. Instead, the house and the yard was unkempt and in disrepair, much of which seemed to be because of neglect, not because any lack of resources. Costly tools were left out to rust in the rain. Since I left, I understand a deteriorating couch was replaced, so hopefully other improvements will follow.
For me, the difference between a rewarding experience and a disappointing one can come down to very little, so I hope I’m not coming across as negative. Volunteering is hard work, and should be. I feel the role of the organization should be to make the work the focus, and do everything it can to facilitate it by minimizing the difficulties associated with everything that ISN’T the work itself.
I will continue to seek out volunteer opportunities, and encourage others to do the same. At the same time, I hope that Lower Nine strives to improve their standards. From my time in New Orleans, it’s clear that the people there deserve as much help as we can spare, and volunteers should have numerous positive opportunities available to choose from.