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Focus on New Orleans: Four College Grads Reflect on Volunteering

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My guests today are four college grads who participated in the recent UJA-NNJ New Orleans Klene-Up Crew VII. Welcome to OpEdNews, Benjamin, Michael, Pace and Zach. All of you are in that sort of in-between stage: post-college but still single. Can you tell us a little about what you're doing now?

Benjamin (aka Ben), 26, Wyckoff, NJ: Joan - I'm in the process of relocating to New York City. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. After graduation, I went to Washington, DC, first as a foreign policy analyst, then as a writer and editor for AIPAC, where I was for about three and a half years.

Last November, I moved to New Delhi, India, to do communications work for the United Nations and a variety of NGOs fighting poverty and climate change, and working to empower rural entrepreneurs. I moved back to the States in late October and am looking to continue my work in communications and international development.

Michael, 23, NYC: Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in May 2009, I have been living in Manhattan and working for a full-service talent agency dealing with clients across film, television and theater.

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Zach, 23, NYC: I work for a small consulting company specializing in healthcare and technology. Before falling into this, I was a student at the University of Southern California studying journalism and economics. I grew up in Wyckoff and came back to the New York area after school - never fell in love with Los Angeles.

Pace, 24, Boulder: I went straight from undergraduate at UVM in Vermont to CU Boulder where I have been studying [Masters Candidate] Energy Analysis through their Civil Engineering Department. Since last April, I have been working for a company that consults utility companies on their energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Why did you come on this trip?

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Pace: Mostly, I was looking to spend time with close friends, help people and see things I hadn't seen before. All of these goals were achieved. An additional treat was the escape from the day to day.

Ben: Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast more than five years ago, and while New Orleans has come a long way since the storm, thousands of people are still struggling each day to rebuild their homes, to rebuild their lives, to rebuild their city. I joined this trip to lend a helping hand, and to assure the people of New Orleans that they hadn't been forgotten.

What was most memorable about the trip?

Ben: I'm always deeply moved by the stories that survivors of the storm have to tell. What many of these people went through, persevered through, rose above in the days and weeks--and now years-- since Katrina is shocking. And their courage and determination to get back on their feet is incredibly inspiring.

But what tends to affect me most when I work down in New Orleans is the gratitude that each of the citizens I've met has shown to me and my fellow volunteers.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard "thank you for coming" during my three visits to New Orleans. The people down there are very strong--the energy and the life in the city today, five years since the storm, shows that--but they've been through some extraordinarily hard times and seem to really appreciate the support. It reminds people that they're not alone. And it's an expression of gratitude that reinforces, for me, at least, that what groups like the Klene-Up Krewe are doing is worthwhile and appreciated and important, and it makes me want to return again and again to help rebuild.

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with two of St. Bernard Project site supervisors, Amber Matthews
and Hina Syed); from left to right: Amber, Michael, Pace, Ben, Zach,
Hina; photo credit: Lawrence Weiss

(I hope this isn't too much information, but figured I'd share...)

I traveled to New Orleans this summer to do some work with St. Bernard Project. After hopping off my plane, I headed to the rental car desk to pick up the keys for my car. The woman behind the counter welcomed me to New Orleans and asked me what I was doing in town--especially as it was the middle of the summer and the heat was brutal. I told her I was in the city to volunteer, and she responded with a "thank you" and a big smile that seemed to come from deep in her heart. It was an amazing rush to start the trip like that, and I have to admit, it wasn't something I expected to receive from the rental car attendant.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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