Volunteer Vacations: Rebuilding New Orleans

By Sheryl Kayne

Wrought Iron Balconies in New OrleansVolunteer vacations are sometimes the best way to travel. They are perfect for singles because most of them are group trips, so you won’t be paying a premium for single accommodations – simply sign up and become part of the fun.

A recent industry poll found that one out of every two Americans polled said they would consider taking a volunteer vacation this year, trips that combine a travel element with giving back. Volunteer vacations are the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry with 11% growth yearly for the last five years.

One vacationer recalls, “I met two women who will be my best friends for life on the first volunteer trip I ever went on. We bonded in Kentucky and now we take turns meeting in each others locations.”

In tight economic times, volunteer vacations are a wonderful alternative to more expensive, traditional vacations. Many are fee-free, which means you pay the travel costs and the rest of the trip is ‘on the house’. But how do you choose? There are loads of great causes in unusual locations, with people and projects in need of help. Volunteers return from vacation gratified and refreshed, having learned new skills, explored new parts of themselves, and participated in exceptional adventures.

Consider visiting New Orleans – there’s so much to do and see, and you can volunteer at the same time. Check with your accountant as most volunteer vacations are tax deductible and you can write off the trip as long as your primary purpose is to volunteer with a recognized organization.

Join a grassroots effort to support the residents of New Orleans as they rebuild their neighborhoods. Common Ground Relief, a non-profit organization since 2007, works with other community-based nonprofits to prioritize the needs of the community and identify the issues that have held up reconstruction. The organization is looking for volunteers skilled in dry-wall hanging, carpentry, painting, legal aid, social work, media and public relations, computer technology, cooking, gardening, wetlands restoration, and bio-remediation. Both short- and long-term volunteers are needed.

Go to the Project Areas section on Common Ground Relief’s Web site and indicate your preference(s) when registering. Download an application or request one by e-mailing the volunteer coordinator, and allow one week for a response after submitting your application. Communal housing is provided for all volunteers. (Common Ground Relief, 504-218-6613; www.commongroundrelief.org; commongroundvolunteers@gmail.com).

Relief Spark is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides disaster relief for people and pets. Teams from Relief Spark have been working with volunteers since September 2005, helping families who lost homes in the flooding of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Volunteers rotate to a variety of jobs according to experience and skills. You’ll stay in the Uptown district of New Orleans, within walking distance from shops and restaurants. Relief Spark can house 100 volunteers per week, and you’ll be introduced to people from all over the country. Stay a Saturday and take part in Arts and Culture Day, where you’ll field trip to the zoo, aquarium, parks and playgrounds, festivals, movies, theater, museums, and art performances.

You may choose to work with any of the organizations in Relief Spark’s network, including Animal Rescue and Care, Environmentally Safe Lawn Care, House Gutting, Rebuilding, Neighborhood Service, and Tutoring. There is a registration form on the Relief Spark Web site, and one of Relief Spark’s coordinators will contact you within 24–36 hours. Relief Spark, 504-377-7854; www.reliefspark.org; volunteer@reliefspark.org).

For additional New Orleans info, check out www.neworleansonline.com.

Sheryl Kayne has two new travel books out in the stores and available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble: VOLUNTEER VACATIONS ACROSS AMERICA and IMMERSION TRAVEL USA. Drop her a note to Sheryl@immersiontraveler.com if you’d like autographed stickers for your books!

Other Immersion Traveler articles:
Immersion Traveler: Leave No Trace Behind
Immersion Travel: Learn How to Mush
Become an Immersion Traveler