For months after the drill rig explosion in the Gulf, thousands of willing American hands and minds have been forced to wait and watch the agony unfold as millions of gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico. Volunteers were continually told to wait, until a response could be organized, while the condition worsened and some of the most sensitive preserved ecosystems in the nation seemed all too vulnerable.
Fortunately, the spilling oil has been stopped, several groups and organizations have begun to step forward and opportunities for volunteers have seemed to blossom.
Huge Organizations such as Volunteer Louisiana, Volunteer Mississippi, Volunteer Florida Disaster and Serve Alabama had been sending monthly emails to hundreds of people who registered to volunteer, expressing their appreciation for the willingness to help, but advised them to keep waiting until there was more work to do. Those emails have since turned into announcements of planned beach clean-ups, beach, marsh and wetland restorations and shoreline protection projects.
If you are local or able to plan your travel according to one of these scheduled events, you are set! If you have a tight timeline or budget and can’t seem to make one of these opportunities work for you, these larger organizations are not the only groups making a difference. A more in-depth search, using sites such as VolunteerMatch.com can help hook you up with smaller organizations that can work with individual or group schedules and timelines, to help coordinate the connection between your best intentions and meaningful work opportunities.
Fresh off the plane from New Orleans, I may be a perfect example of the latter. Caught between leaving a job and starting graduate school, my available time did not match any large project currently scheduled. Using VolunteerMatch.com, I found a small non-profit organization called Project195. After responding to the post, I got a call from the president of the organization who was able to connect me with Bayou Rebirth in New Orleans and a Wetland Restoration Project!
The initial plan was for my friend and me to join another group and work directly in the wetlands, transplanting wetland grasses. Unfortunately, this other group was forced to reschedule. At this point, the beauty of working with a small organization took shape. Rather than our volunteer experience evaporating in front of us, Bayou Rebirth coordinated two completely new projects in less than 48 hours.
They lined up two days prepping a new wetland nursery site for construction of wetland beds and another day working at a wetland tree farm removing invasive species. Although, this was not the initial plan, we were still able to help the cause, and make a real impact, despite several last-minute changes.
In addition to my tight schedule, there was a tight budget. If you are also facing this constraint, there are several nice hostels in the area. Given that my buddy and I also wanted to see New Orleans as well as volunteer, we stayed in a hostel within walking distance to the French Quarter (AAE Bourbon House Hostel, hostelworld.com), for $16 per night. There are three other hostels within walking distance as well, the India House Backpackers Hostel, Joe & Flo’s Candlelight Hostel, and the Creole Inn. Although we did not stay in any of these other hostels, I can attest to how extremely friendly the people are in New Orleans and that you are sure to have a good time anywhere you stay!
So if anyone out there has a passion or is simply pissed about the situation in the Gulf and wants to make a difference, your time has finally arrived! Search for a project that fits best for you, and make it happen!