UUA-UUSC funds for hurricane relief now will support volunteer groups going to Gulf.
The Rev. Meg Riley, chair of the Gulf Coast Relief Fund Panel, said this new staffing arrangement will make it easier for groups and individuals to volunteer and will allow Unitarian Universalism to continue the good work that has been done through the original fund.
In the months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the fall and winter of 2005, Unitarian Universalists raised more than $3.5 million to help the victims of those disasters through the Unitarian Universalist Association-UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund. But as of June 1, the last of that original amount will have been allocated.
The money was used for direct help for displaced families, the creation of relief camps, and the rebuilding of community centers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went to help devastated UU congregations, including three in the New Orleans area. And money went to some less obvious places, too. It went to help immigrant rights groups protect workers from widespread economic abuse by employers, to help residents pressure city officials for a say in how New Orleans gets rebuilt, and to address issues affecting low-income women.
“We feel very proud of what we’ve been able to do with the contributions to the original fund,” said Riley. “We have created some excellent relationships with groups led by people of color. We’ve also gotten to work with progressive foundations, religious groups, and community-based organizing groups. These relationships are an incredible resource for us in terms of having opportunities to do further work in the Gulf and elsewhere.”
The new phase of Gulf work by Unitarian Universalists will be known as the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Volunteer Program.
As part of the new program, two volunteer coordinators in Baton Rouge, who have been coordinating the work of volunteers in New Orleans, are being replaced this month by three people. The first will be a director of volunteer operations who will work out of UUSC headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., serving as the first point of contact for UUs and UU groups wanting to volunteer. Two people will also be hired from the Diverse Young Leaders program of Delta Corps, a subsidiary of AmeriCorps. The two Delta Corps volunteers will work on the ground in New Orleans, welcoming UU volunteer groups and facilitating their work.
These three workers will replace Volunteer Coordinator Chere Coen and the Rev. Marilee Baccich, Minister to the Community, who had agreed to serve for one year in Baton Rouge and whose commitments are expiring. They have been coordinating most of the UU volunteer groups coming into New Orleans. Virginia Trabulsi will continue to be volunteer coordinator on the Mississippi Gulf, and will coordinate with the Cambridge office.
A letter is going out April 13 from UUSC President Charlie Clements and UUA President William G. Sinkford inviting UUs and others to contribute to this new effort to help those on the Gulf Coast. The new fundraising will hopefully enable the hiring of the new staff for the volunteer program for 18 months, said Riley, and make it as easy as possible for groups to go to the Gulf.
“We want people to experience the life changing conditions and relationships that are possible on the Gulf,” she said. “It’s a great way to learn about all the things we hear about in church. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who was not radically transformed by going.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.