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Politics

Federal volunteer chief: Nonprofits learned from Katrina, better prepared today

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Emily Brauner
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The head of the federal agency for volunteering and service says Hurricane Katrina created new ways of thinking about disaster response for volunteer organizations.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, says more than 9,500 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers are currently involved in 1,000 service projects in the Gulf Region.

Spencer says Katrina taught lessons in donation management because there was a glut of things that weren’t needed by many nonprofits, namely clothing from people’s closets.

“The nonprofits in the entire Gulf Region are stronger as a result. They are better prepared. They have better continuity of operations plans. They know how to manage volunteers better. They know that they have to have a financial reserve to weather a storm. No pun intended,” Spencer said, who is in New Orleans now helping to rebuild a home.

Spencer has experience training volunteers in disaster management. Previously, she headed up the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in Florida. She says more than 40,000 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps volunteers have served in Katrina-related response. The model is being replicated in disasters since.

“This region’s best practices have become a model for the rest of the country. Even the Texas fires that happened after Katrina, Joplin tornadoes, Tuscaloosa tornadoes, Moore, Oklahoma and Hurricane Sandy: Lessons learned and best practices from Katrina were used in those subsequent storms,” Spencer said.

She encourages people to find service opportunities at serve.gov.

New Orleans was named one of 10 Resilience AmeriCorps Cities last week. The pilot program aims to bolster civic engagement in the city. The other nine cities include, Anchorage, Alaska; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago; El Paso, Texas; Minot, N.D.; Norfolk, Va.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Tulsa, Okla.