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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac on the Katrina Anniversary

As many are aware, today is the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In the time since those devastating storms and floods, New Orleans has certainly made huge strides in recovery. Though it will always be a city divided - before Katrina and after Katrina - it is flourishing in a whole new way.

But as fate would have it, on this day of remembering, New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast is under barrage from Hurricane Isaac. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in the affected areas. Our founder and president, Patti Vile, releases this statement on this anniversary and new challenge:

"The brave citizens of New Orleans are again facing a hurricane to test their nerves, endurance, and their love of the city.

"In the seven years since Katrina, New Orleans has made some giant leaps and has addressed many issues while leaving other issues to be further considered and solved in time. The physical beauty of New Orleans has definitely returned. Immediately following Katrina, there was not a green space or blade of grass or trees or anything but the gray aftermath of the storm. Now New Orleans is green again, with new buildings and colorful homes and residents.

"While many families are struggling to regain some sense of a normal life after Katrina, we find them again today with new challenges from Hurricane Isaac. So many people do not have housing, and we are very concerned that this number is escalating as the day goes on.

"My wish for New Orleans is that they retain their spirit and their very unique culture. While no one can boast food and music like New Orleans-ians, the need to continue addressing poverty, crime, and issues of education is still pressing.

"Let's send New Orleans our prayers and best wishes on this anniversary and as they face this new challenge."

Just as New Orleans has taken big steps in recovering from Katrina, so too will they get through and flourish beyond Hurricane Isaac. And we will be there to help them do it.

To help those affected by the storm, please donate to the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and DevelopmentSt. John's #5 Church and Social Ministry, the Lower 9th Ward Village, or Second Harvest Food Bank - or consider taking your group on a volunteer trip to New Orleans with Volunteer Expeditions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Extraordinary Volunteer: Max Glazer

Everyone helps others in their own way. Some people donate. Some people volunteer. Other people raise thousands of dollars and send hundreds of pounds of supplies before graduating high school.

Max in New Orleans, 2009
Welcome to the premier edition of Volunteer Expeditions' Extraordinary Volunteers, where we feature the incredible volunteer work of those who have traveled with us (outside of their volunteer trip). We are truly honored to share the story of Max Glazer, who has done more in just four years as a teenager than many have done in their entire lives.

It all started in 2008, when Max was at the ripe old age of twelve. The Torah portion for his Bar Mitzvah centered on a theme of home. He wanted to have his guests help build a home with Habitat for Humanity after his service (and he would outfit the home with his gifts) but unfortunately was not allowed to because of his young age. Habitat's loss became New Orleans' gain, as his rabbi worked with Volunteer Expeditions. 30 congregants - including Max and his parents - joined us on a volunteer trip.

Max worked in a men's shelter and gutted homes during his trip with us. He returned to New Jersey inspired. To remind others of the importance of the rebuilding efforts, he wrote letters, articles, a play; he gave presentations; and he asked his Bar Mitzvah guests to donate while doing his own fundraising to send over $3,000 to the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (now the Lower 9th Ward CSED).

But Max wasn't done. In 2010, he returned to the city and helped plant over 2,000 trees to revitalize the wetlands and worked in several other organizations. He was dismayed to discover that very few books had survived Hurricane Katrina and there was still no functional library. With the help of his 8th grade teacher, his friend Noah, and Noah's mother, Max started Books for the Bayou to replace the lost books and provide additional resources for schools, churches, and community centers.

In his first Books for the Bayou collection through his middle school, Max received over 1,000 books for children and adults in the Lower 9th Ward and a grant to cover the shipping costs. Since then, Max's efforts have collected almost 4,000 more books and the thousands of dollars necessary for shipping, which has led our friend and partner Warrenetta Banks at the CSED to declare, "He's my hero!"

Now 16, Max has received a Raoul Wallenberg honor for his efforts and donated the cash award to the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association. He has also been nominated for the Kohl's Kids Care Scholarship and the NJ Jefferson Awards for Public Service. There is a chair named after him in the Holy Cross Church in the Lower 9th Ward in appreciation for his dedication to the people of the community.

In his free time (he has free time?), Max plays the saxophone in his high school marching band, works at his temple as a classroom aid in the religious school and tutors Spanish. He hopes to study architecture and engineering - and he will be returning to New Orleans for the fourth time in January.

Max and more books at the post office, July 2012

To donate to Books for the Bayou, you can send checks to 203 Sailer Street Cranford, New Jersey 07016 or email maxxrea[at]gmail.com for more information. Please note that Books for the Bayou is not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit at this time, so donations are not tax-deductible.

Many thanks to Max and to Julie Glazer, his mother, for providing so much information!