April 12, 2010; USA Today | As public attention to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina has been superseded by other natural and manmade disasters, people may not realize that areas of the Gulf Coast are still in need of reconstruction and redevelopment and people are still living in temporary housing. In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Lutheran Episcopal Services is still on the job. A pre-Katrina provider of literacy programs for kids and adults, Lutheran Episcopal switched its program after the hurricane to work on housing rehabilitation, funneling in volunteers from around the nation to help residents repair damaged homes and to gut and rehab others. According to a spokesperson for the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, there were “several hundred” groups bringing in volunteers to help rebuild communities along Mississippi’s coast just after Katrina, but only a dozen or so are left, with Lutheran Episcopal Services leading much of the volunteer activity. The reason? The money for rebuilding is dwindling, despite the fact that there are 266 families living in Katrina-generated mobile homes and 1,132 in federally issued temporary cottages. Lutheran Episcopal Services has brought in more than 55,000 volunteers to rebuild homes in Mississippi based on the labor of one-week volunteers ranging in age from 16 to more than 80. The volunteers are still up to the work, but federal dollars pay for supervisors and building materials. To cover some of the financial shortfall, Lutheran Episcopal has started to charge volunteers $25 a day to cover their costs. This is a good example of the value of volunteers and the power of nonprofit persistence-but also the need for crucial government support, without which volunteer labor may not go as far as needed.—Rick Cohen
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