2006 REALTORS® CONFERENCE & EXPO: Calling Volunteers

Help rebuild the “Big Easy”

October 1, 2006

This November, New Orleans will offer much more than jambalaya and jazz to 30,000 REALTORS® and their guests at the 2006 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. Thanks to a variety of volunteer initiatives organized by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, attendees will have the chance to personally contribute to the rebirth of a great city.

Beginning Tuesday, Nov. 7, and continuing throughout the conference, except for Sunday, Nov. 12, attendees can participate in day-long rebuilding and renovation activities, with some half-day opportunities on Nov. 8–10. NAR will provide bus transportation to and from the sites, orientation, and a box lunch. Volunteer activities generally run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

State and local REALTOR® associations and other members of the REALTOR® family have already been among the leaders in contributing to rebuilding the Gulf Coast region (see “More than the extra mile”). Overall, real estate companies and friends have donated more than $17.8 million to provide relief to hurricane victims. “But without the continued support of volunteers, New Orleans will struggle to rebuild,” says Gina Stilp, development coordinator for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

Volunteer venues

From painting and sanding to planting trees and sorting books, there’s a volunteer opportunity for everyone.

Jazz fans can spend the day constructing Habitat for Humanity homes in the Musicians’ Village. Conceived by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis, the village will provide housing for displaced New Orleans musicians and other families on eight acres in the hard-pressed Upper 9th Ward. The day’s activities are sponsored by Lowe’s. Seven of the Musicians’ Village homes are part of the 54 homes being sponsored by NAR and state and local associations through Operation Home Delivery: REALTOR®-Habitat Partnership for Gulf Coast Recovery.

Volunteers also can participate in Rebuilding Together with Countrywide, which will focus on residential renovations and a neighborhood cleanup in downtown New Orleans. The projects are being sponsored by Countrywide Home Loans.

City Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks and home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, offers 1,300 acres of volunteer opportunities. You’ll be pruning trees and shoreline grasses, clearing weeds and debris, planting trees, and hanging holiday lights for the Celebration in the Oaks winter festival. The park project is sponsored by G.E. Security.

Other volunteer opportunities include painting and cleaning at St. Mary’s Academy and De La Salle School, sorting books for the New Orleans Public Library, and working at the Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans & Acadiana food bank. The De La Salle School and Second Harvest efforts require only half-day commitments and will run Nov. 8–10 only.

Hundreds of REALTOR® volunteers have already made their commitments to help rebuild the city, but many more willing workers are needed. Become part of this uplifting endeavor by going to REALTOR.org/conference and clicking Sign up for Rebuild New Orleans Volunteer Activities.

Vikki Morvant:A voice in the storm

Cut off by floodwaters from homes and family, hurricane evacuees needed communication almost as much as they needed food and water. That’s why Vikki Morvant, CRS®, co-owner of Keller Williams Realty in Mandeville, La., removed the password protection from the community message board on her Web site, allowing the public to use it as a word-of-mouth vehicle. One day later, she’d received 6,000 posts. Some were from evacuees asking Morvant about the condition of the area. Other posts contained pleas for help. In California during the storm, Rudy Lamid, at the time a salesperson with Keller Williams Realty in Metairie, La., asked someone to check on his elderly father. In between caravanning supplies and victims to her son’s Houston home, Morvant drove to the retired doctor’s home and sent word back: All is well.

One year later, Morvant smiles at the effort. “I’ve pulled off some pretty big marketing coups in my career, but they were always about money. This was all about people.”

Gerald C. Finn: The source of life

As Gerald C. Finn, chairman and CEO of Princeton, N.J.–based NAI Global, a managed network of brokers, watched the televised images of the thousands affected when Katrina hit, he wanted to help. But how? A news story showing residents in Waveland, Miss., waiting in line for bottled water provided his answer. Finn joined forces with Quentin T. Kelly, CEO of WorldWater & Power Corp. and donated a solar-powered mobile water purification unit to Waveland residents.

One year later, the system, which provides up to 15,000 gallons of water daily to relief workers and flood victims, is still in use.

“It’s an obligation of people who do well to help other people,” Finn explains.

Steve Levine: A simple plan to save lives

One day after Katrina hit, Steve Levine came up with a simple plan: Send an e-mail request for donations to the more than 6,000 people on his contact list. Rent a truck. Drive the donated supplies from his Shrewsbury, Mass., home to relief centers at the Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge.

But when the supplies reached a total of 20,000 pounds, Levine, president of Steve Levine Inc. and a sales associate with RE/MAX First Choice Real Estate in Northboro, Mass., enlisted the support of dozens of volunteers to sort through the donations and pack hundreds of moving boxes. One week later, donated trucks and supplies hit the road, en route to storm victims.

“We all have so much more than we need,” he explains. “And we need to give back.”

Dan Bogojevich: Out of one, many

After returning home from driving a truck of supplies south to hurricane victims, Dan Bogojevich, a sales practitioner with Prudential Premier Realty LLC in Oak Park, Ill., made a personal commitment to build one home for a Louisiana family left homeless by the storms. Great, said Bogojevich’s friend, real estate coach and mentor Brian Buffini. But if one is good, four are better.

So in May 2006, bolstered by $230,000 in additional support from Carlsbad, Calif.–based Buffini & Co., Bogojevich, 250 real estate practitioners from across the nation, and four families selected by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, spent eight days building four homes.

“The volunteers all paid their own expenses. Many of them had never driven a nail, but they turned out to support the people who needed their help. It was incredible,” Bogojevich says.

Offer a Helping hand from afar

Even if you’re not able to come to New Orleans for the conference, you can still make a valuable contribution to rebuilding the city and the lives of its citizens.

Donations to help build a Habitat home in New Orleans can be made at www.habitat-nola.org. Contribute to Rebuilding Together and to New Orleans’ City Park rehab efforts at www.neworleanscitypark.com.

Or share your good fortune by donating to any of these grassroots organizations making a difference every day in New Orleans:

  • Common Ground. This organization began offering help to victims in New Orleans just one week after the flooding. Services range from health care to gutting and rebuilding homes. Donate by calling 504/218-6613 or going to www.commongroundrelief.org.
  • Creature Comforts. With waters rising, New Orleans residents who fled sometimes had to leave their pets behind. The only no-kill animal shelter in New Orleans, Creature Comforts, took in 80 animals before the storm and 147 after. But the animals keep coming. Executive Director Roxanne Mentzer says animal lovers can lend a hand by calling 985/641-0929 or e-mailing roxassorgi@yahoo.com.
  • Just the Right Attitude. This local food bank handed out 1.3 million pounds of food in 2005. With help from volunteers, Executive Director Debra Jones continues to organize food donations, pack and deliver groceries, and serve 700 free hot lunches every Monday through Friday. Call 337/332-0252 or visit www.jtra.org.
  • Operation Blessing International. Two days after Katrina hit, Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corp. sent a large response team to provide emergency relief supplies, food, and medical care to disaster victims. This worldwide relief group is committed to staying in the Gulf Coast area through July 2007. Call 800/730-2537 or visit www.operationblessing.net.
  • Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans & Acadiana. This local food bank distributes millions of pounds of food to poor families throughout southern Louisiana and serves more than 163,000 people through 300 nonprofit social service organizations. Donate by calling 504/734-1322, or visit www.no-hunger.org.
  • Urban Impact Ministries. UIM and Castle Rock Community Church operate a free store that supplies meals, food, and basic necessities to families hit hard by Katrina. UIM is scheduling Katrina-response work teams through 2008 for tree removal, meal preparation, and demolition and rebuilding of damaged homes. Call 504/523-5556 or visit www.urbanimpact.org.

For more volunteer opportunities, go to the USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network. Select the Find a Volunteer Opportunity link. Fill out the form, select Hurricane Relief button, and choose LA for the state.

No time to volunteer? Make an online donation at Network for Good (www.networkforgood.org). Go to Crisis Relief, and click the link to Help Victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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