When I first arrived at Project Homecoming, long term volunteers were more of an after thought rather than a priority. Although short term volunteers are still the priority at PH, I feel that the long term volunteer experience has come a long way.
On Friday, we will lose another long term volunteer in Hunter. For those of you who do not know Hunter, she has been volunteering with us for the past 4 months while taking her final college class (online) in order to graduate from my alma mater, The University of Alabama. I like to think Hunter wondered what she had gotten herself into, because even though our long term volunteers do not have much more experience than short term volunteers (sometimes they even have less) we expect a whole lot more out of them. While here Hunter did everything from lead volunteers on her own to conquer her fear of heights, all more or less because it was expected of her…Even though she was not getting paid, was fairly new to construction, and might still have a phobia of high places.
Hunter is not the only example of the transformation that volunteering long term has on people; there are countless others that have passed through her place this year: Tony, Gene, Genevieve, Wolf, Ken, Janet, and Adrian, and they all are deserving of praise. However, I feel that Hunter’s story is most emblematic of Project Homecomings mission though because it reflects the experience of short term volunteers the most. It is about taking the time to be patient and teach willing learners in the hope that your investment will be paid back through their satisfaction, production on the house, and a commitment to the rebuilding effort.
On site I always try to push the short term and long term volunteers I work with out of their comfort zones (sometimes to a fault) because I feel that they may not have another chance to be challenged in a such a relaxed but challenging environment again. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not, but it is always worth the effort. Hunter probably hated me for making her walk across the second floor joists at Terpsichore, but seeing her become more comfortable over time made me extremely proud. I got the same feeling watching Tony struggle with trim work early on and then returning to Mrs. Mary’s house and seeing the near perfect crown molding he had installed. In the end it’s the most rewarding and humbling experience I have had yet in New Orleans; the experience of working with the long term volunteers of Project Homecoming, and it is one I will not soon forget.
So to Hunter and all of the fellow long term volunteer: Good job, you have all been an absolute treat to work with.
To all the short term volunteers: I love y’all as well, but Hunter and the others need a shout out every now and then.