Mark A. Schexnayder, Hardesty, Amanda, Morgan, Johnny W.
After taking a firsthand look at the needs of New Orleans, officials with investment banking firm Goldman Sachs decided to lend some helping hands plus cash to the recovery effort.
Amanda Hardesty, the recovery volunteer coordinator with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant program, was originally contacted by the company during the summer concerning what they could do to help in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
"They came down in August and looked around at the needs of the area, and they decided to send 30 volunteers," Hardesty said. "But not only did they send volunteers, they also decided to make a $50,000 donation to our volunteer program for the next year."
The money will be used to fund Hardesty’s volunteer coordinator position for the next year – ensuring that thousands more volunteer hours can be added to the recovery efforts, since her major tasks are matching willing volunteers with those who need help.
Mark Schexnayder, the LSU AgCenter’s hurricane recovery coordinator headquartered in Metairie, said the Goldman Sachs donation will be helpful to the area’s recovery efforts. Schexnayder and Hardesty work with a network of LSU AgCenter personnel to organize volunteer workers who come into the city and put them in touch with people with the greatest needs.
"The Goldman Sachs volunteers are coming down in four different waves," Schexnayder explained. "The first group came in early October and worked in the French Quarter and in City Park. The second and third waves involved a team in mid-October that split into two groups and worked with Habitat for Humanity in Musician’s Village and in the Treme area, and the third group will come in November."
Other groups also have made monetary donations when they came down to work, and Hardesty said such donations validate that the volunteer effort is a worthwhile part of the city’s recovery.
Jennifer Cooper, project manager with Goldman Sachs-New York, said volunteers from the company have wanted to come to the New Orleans area since just after the storm, but they had to wait until it was considered safe.
"Basically we got involved initially when the hurricane hit," Cooper said. "We took a look at the area and assessed the needs, and we did an immediate contribution to the recovery effort. Last fall we had a lot of volunteers interested in coming down right away, but the area just wasn’t safe."
Cooper and her coworker, Beth Stellato, a senior analyst with the company, came down together in August and decided that they wanted to do something that would coincide with the one-year anniversary.
"Now that it’s a year later we decided to check out some Web sites to see how we could use our volunteers to best help out in the rebuilding effort. That’s when we saw Amanda’s we-kare.org Web site," Stellato said.
This is the first time Goldman Sachs has sent a group of volunteers to serve outside of their general work areas, and officials said they are happy this first project is to help in New Orleans.
"I never saw the pre-Katrina New Orleans, but I think it’s just amazing how dedicated the people are to this city in trying to get back and to get the city going again," Stellato said. "Every person we meet here is so happy and jovial and just happy to be alive, so I’m very grateful.
"There are so many things about this city, like the food and the music, but I think it’s the people that I’m most impressed with," she added.
Stellato said there has always been a spirit of volunteerism in the company’s culture but that they really found out how strong it was when all of the volunteer positions for the New Orleans trips were filled within 15 minutes of the program’s announcement.
"You know we really had a lot of help after September 11, and this is just a way for us to give back," she said.
Hardesty said more calls also are coming in already from officials with colleges and universities who want to send volunteers to work during the winter break.
"My job is to make sure that we have areas laid out for them to work in when they come," Hardesty said.
Since Hardesty came to New Orleans with a group of Ohio State University students last December to volunteer, she says she has seen a lot of improvements in the city, but there still is a lot more to be done.
"There’s a lot more human activity than when we first came," Hardesty said. "It’s also a lot harder now to find watermarks on houses, and a lot of the houses are being gutted and cleaned up."
Other projects that Hardesty has scheduled for the fall include a group of Realtors who will be in town in November to do a large planting project in New Orleans City Park.