Volunteer FAQ

Volunteer FAQ

1Q: What is lowernine.org?
A: lowernine.org is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization teaching home rebuilding skills to volunteers and community residents, facilitating access to social services, working with youth, and experimenting with models of sustainable economic development in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, LA.
2Q: Why the Lower Ninth Ward?
A: Due to its proximity to the breach on the east side of the Industrial Canal levee in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Lower Nine suffered some of the worst flooding in the greater New Orleans area. As one of the city’s poorer outlying neighborhoods, services, government help and national media attention have not been focused on this community to the extent that they have been elsewhere in the city. Before the storm, the Lower Nine was a vibrant working class neighborhood with a long history of community involvement. As of January 2010, fewer than 20% of Lower Ninth Ward residents have returned to their community, due to the lack of housing, schools, critical infrastructure and job opportunities.
3Q: Why rebuild a neighborhood that’s just going to flood again the next time there’s a big hurricane?
A: The Lower Ninth Ward is at risk of flooding solely because the federally-built and -maintained levee system failed during Katrina and hasn’t been adequately rebuilt. Remember that Katrina didn’t “hit” New Orleans – it hit coastal Mississippi to the east – and it was the failure of the levees to contain the storm surge that caused the devastation in the Lower Ninth Ward and the rest of New Orleans. For more information about the federal levee system not just in New Orleans, but across the country, please visit our friends at levees.org. We believe that the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward should have the option of returning to their neighborhood, just like residents have been able to return to the Mississippi coast and other areas of greater New Orleans that sustained damage.
4Q: What kind of help can I offer?
A: We need volunteers to help us rebuild houses, work with community members on a variety of projects, and bring their energy and enthusiasm to bear on an area of the country that has been too long neglected. If you have construction, carpentry, electrical or plumbing skills, you can help throughout the rebuild process and train unskilled volunteers. If you have none of these skills, you can let us train you to help rebuild houses in the neighborhood. If you are a teacher, artist, craftsperson or entrepreneur, and are willing to share your skills with the residents of our community, by all means come on down! If you have experience with website development, fundraising and/or grantwriting, you can help from home!
5Q: How do I sign up as a volunteer?
A: By following the steps outlined on the Volunteer page. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, simply email our volunteer coordinator at emily@lowernine.org and we will get back to you as quickly as we can. If you feel confident that you want to share your time with us, go ahead and fill out the volunteer application online, and we’ll let you know if we have project opportunities available during the time you’ve requested. If you are an international volunteer, please read our International Volunteer Info.
6Q: Does lowernine.org provide housing for volunteers?
A: We invite you to stay in our volunteer house if we have space available during your time with us! Past volunteers have said that staying in the house helped them feel more connected to the other volunteers and to the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. If we do not have space in our house or if you choose to stay elsewhere, we will send a list of alternate housing suggestions in the area. (Some restrictions: Groups of more than 14 volunteers usually need to arrange housing elsewhere, as our space is limited. Except in special circumstances, you must be 18 or older to stay in our house.)
7Q: What exactly are the volunteer housing accommodations?
A: Our on-site housing consists of dormitory-style sleeping arrangements for up to 24 people in our headquarters building on El Dorado Street. We are housed in a single story home that we have rehabilitated for our use, but quarters are tight, so be prepared for the experience of living very closely with your fellow volunteers. The experience is not unlike summer camp, and it is nothing luxurious, so if you are looking for a vacation-type experience, you may be disappointed. There are three bedrooms with eight bunked beds per room, two full bathrooms, kitchen and common living room. Volunteers are expected to keep the living and sleeping areas of the house as neat as possible and to share house chores, including meal preparation, kitchen and bathroom clean up. There is a $160/person/week housing fee for all volunteers staying in our house, which includes three meals a day and all housing expenses.
8Q: Does it cost anything to volunteer?
A: You are expected to pay your own transportation costs, to and from New Orleans and to and from the airport/train or bus station to our house. If you choose to stay in our volunteer house, there is a $160/person/week housing fee to help offset the costs of three meals a day, house utilities and maintenance as well as project expenses. All long-term volunteers (those staying with us for three weeks or longer) only need to cover housing expenses for their first three weeks, whether you stay with us for three weeks or three years! This long-term housing fee of $480 ($160/week for three weeks) is due prior to your arrival. *Please note – if you are receiving compensation while you are working with us, lowernine.org reserves the right to extend your room and board fees beyond your first three weeks. Please contact emily@lowernine.org for more information. All volunteers who choose to make housing arrangements elsewhere are asked to contribute a $50/person project fee, which helps to cover expenses associated with project coordination and supervision, as well as materials, fuel, safety equipment, insurance and tool and vehicle maintenance. If you’re coming for a single day, we may lower your rate – check with Emily! Large groups (larger than 50 volunteers) are asked to contribute a higher donation per person to help cover the additional time, materials, etc, associated with coordinating larger groups of volunteers. Please coordinate with Emily or Laura (laura@lowernine.org) for details about large group days of service. These payments are due in full before your arrival – your space in our house and on our project schedule will not be reserved until this has been received. All payments must be submitted electronically, with a credit or debit card, through this page. We regret that we are generally unable to refund volunteer fees. We do not refund any cancellations made a week or less before the scheduled volunteer day. While we try to be flexible, last-minute cancellations can not be reimbursed unless we’ve been able to fill the space originally reserved for you.
9Q: Can I come on my own or do I need to be part of a group?
A: We welcome individual volunteers every week! Even if you come on your own, you’ll quickly come to feel part of our team and there will be plenty of other volunteers here as individuals.
10Q: Do you have age requirements?
A: Volunteers between the ages of 15-17 are welcome as members of chaperoned groups – we require a minimum chaperone to teenager ratio of 1 to 5. In order to be counted as a chaperone, you must be at least 23 years old, willing to be legally responsible for up to 5 teenagers throughout the entire work day and to help supervise and encourage them on job sites. Volunteers ages 14 and younger are welcome only if accompanied by a parent, not as part of a larger group. It is our experience that kids younger than 14 or so may require so much supervision that the parent(s) might not get much other work done. While we try to adhere to high standards of safety and security, the job sites we are working on are typically littered with construction debris inside and out, so not at all are conducive to letting kids run free. Also, there isn’t much for kids to do in the neighborhood besides work, so if your child is easily bored, (s)he may not be very happy here – and we don’t have a TV on site. Living and working on our site resembles nothing like the typical “work environment” that most people are used to. Our neighborhood still has many of the aspects of a disaster area, and we live with this every day. Parents should be mindful of the fact that many of our long-term staff and interns work under less-than-ideal circumstances (and some have been doing this work for a very long time). Although we expect high standards of conduct from our staff and interns, a certain amount of gallows humor and off-color language tends to be par for the course, although we certainly make every effort to keep things modest, especially in the presence of children and teenagers. If you’ve ever watched “M*A*S*H” (the movie, not the TV show), you’ll have some idea of what to expect.
11Q: Can I volunteer for just one day?
A: Yes, as long as you’re willing to dedicate a full day to the cause. Organizing work for the large numbers of volunteers we see in the average week takes a considerable amount of time and effort and we are typically planning by weeks, not days. As our project model is based upon training unskilled volunteers to rebuild houses, one or two day unskilled volunteers shouldn’t expect to be put to work doing skilled labor. You may end up helping in rebuild activities, but you may also be asked to help us with resident surveys, yard clearing, trash cleanup or myriad other activities which we undertake in an effort to revitalize our community. If you are a skilled worker, however, you will certainly be put to work on rebuild activities.
12Q: Are there limits on how large a group you can accommodate?
A: We can usually put about 40 people to work each day, however there are most likely other individuals or groups already scheduled. When you complete your group application, enter your ideal group size in the appropriate field and if we can only accommodate only a portion of your group, we’ll let you know the maximum number we can accept.
13Q: How many hours per day will I be working?
A: We work Monday – Friday, from 8:15 am until 4:30 pm, with a lunch break from 12 pm until 1 pm. We ask that any volunteers staying offsite be to our house between 8:00 am and 8 :15 am. We run a new volunteer orientation every Tuesday morning at 8:15 am. If your first day is a Tuesday, you should be to us by 8 am to complete sign-in paperwork. This orientation is open to everyone, so even if you began work the previous week, but missed the orientation for any reason, please feel free to join us the following Tuesday!
14Q: How much work can I accomplish in a week?
A: Quite a bit, actually! Four volunteers can strip and replace a shingle roof in about five days, or insulate and sheet rock a room in two. For volunteers who don’t have any house building experience, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the big visual stuff gets done. Finish work is a little fussier, and take more time, but you’ll be getting more done than you ever thought possible.
15Q: My schedule is flexible, can you tell me when you need the most help?
A: We have projects going on every week, year-round. Our busiest times are during school breaks: the end of December through late January, late February through mid-April and June through July. So if you’re really flexible, we can definitely use your help during the slow fall months. When you are completing the volunteer application, you NEED to enter arrival and departure dates or else we won’t be able to process your request. We ask that you enter the dates that will be ideal in your schedule, make a note that you’re flexible and we’ll let you know if another set of dates works better for us.
16Q: This is New Orleans, do we get to have any fun?
A: That’s up to you, but we don’t know anybody who’s come to New Orleans for any reason and not had fun! We encourage you to get into the French Quarter, Marigny or Garden District to partake of all that the Crescent City has to offer and are happy to recommend our favorite places. Alcohol and illegal drugs are prohibited from work sites and the volunteer house at all times. We have a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and drug usage, and any volunteers who are found on-site in violation of either of these rules will be asked to leave. Unfortunately, due to the culture, it is all too easy for minors to purchase alcohol in New Orleans, and temptation is strong, but for reasons of safety, security and liability we will enforce this policy with no exceptions.
17Q: What kind of weather can I expect?
A: From July to September you can expect the hot, humid conditions that everybody has warned you about – typically temperatures range in the nineties with high humidity, and a chance of thunderstorms nearly every day. October to December starts to cool down some, with lower humidity, average temperature somewhere in the seventies, with cooler and warmer spells thrown in at random. January to April are ideal months, but unpredictable – you can get temperatures down into the forties, but it’s not unusual to have sixty-seventy degree days interspersed with the nippy ones. May and June are unpredictable transitional months when you can get blisteringly hot, humid days just as easily as you can get pleasant, seventy-degree weather. Check weather conditions in New Orleans here in the days leading up to your trip.
18Q: Is New Orleans safe for visitors?
A: Everyone’s heard about New Orleans’ unconscionably high murder rate, a sad commentary on the availability of cheap handguns combined with a devastated community with a reduced police presence since the storm. But, as is true in most American cities, the chances of serious harm coming to the average person is less than that of being involved in a fatal traffic accident. We give all volunteers a general safety orientation, suggest ways they can reduce their risk of something bad happening, and ask them to refrain from participating in behaviors that might make them vulnerable to victimization. See above for our policy on drug use and underage drinking, a policy we will also enforce if volunteers, of any age, appear to be engaging in behaviors that may put them, or us, at risk.
19Q: Why should I volunteer?
A: Because it’s the right thing to do! New Orleans is arguably the most culturally important city in America, but because of history, tradition and lack of foresight it had fallen far behind most other American cities in terms of economic opportunity and basic services and infrastructure, even before Katrina. We have a chance, now, to build a solid foundation upon which the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, and every other affected neighborhood can stand as they recover from the storm and remake their communities stronger than before.