For the fourth straight year, Kaiser Permanente volunteers returned to the Gulf Coast to work in partnership with service organizations dedicated to rebuilding communities devastated in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Sixty volunteers participated in the 2010 Gulf Coast Rebuilding Project in partnership with HandsOn Mississippi and HandsOn New Orleans, nonprofit organizations that facilitate volunteerism. The two-week service project is part of Kaiser Permanente’s long-term commitment to help the people of the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild.
’Many of our workforce and membership have roots in the Gulf, and the whole nation was shocked at the devastation,’ commented Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president, Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. ’Community Benefit is an integral part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission and strategy. The series of natural and man-made disasters in the Gulf region over recent years has not only impacted the local economy, but has created unseen effects on the mental, emotional and physical health of the communities. We are there because it is the right thing to do.’
Kaiser Permanente’s 60-person contingent, split into two teams, included physicians and other caregivers, and non-medical employees. It’s the largest group of volunteers the integrated health care organization has sent to the Gulf Coast.
The first team of volunteers arrived in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, during National Volunteer week, April 18 through April 24. Volunteers removed invasive plant species and storm debris from the Biloxi Bay natural watershed area; restored student facilities at a middle school; built recreational features at a skate park; finished two homes in partnership with Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi; and cared for uninsured patients at two local free clinics.
Don Edwards looks forward to getting back into his home.
’The level of commitment shown by Kaiser Permanente and its employees through their hard work and self-sacrifice is impressive, and we appreciate our long-standing partnership with them,’ said Catherine M. Gautier, HandsOn Mississippi’s executive director. ’The team provided more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during National Volunteer Week and served as a model for engagement and outreach.’
The second Kaiser Permanente team arrived in New Orleans on April 24. Volunteers helped rebuild and refinish four homes that had sustained severe damage after weeks of being submerged in 2005, and have been uninhabitable since. Volunteers outfitted in hazmat suits braved 80-degree weather and high humidity levels to remove dangerous black mold, while another group installed flooring, hung sheetrock and prepped walls for interior and exterior painting.
Sherilyn ’Shay’ Dominick, who owns one of the four homes, worked right alongside the volunteers. She lovingly nicknamed the group ’Team To-Shay,’ a play on the French word touch , which means ’to defeat.’ In a moving interview, Miss Shay said the team helped to defeat Hurricane Katrina with their energy and hard work, and said, ’I look at them now as an extended family and as good friends, and I hope that I will always have them as part of my life.’
On the final day, volunteers gathered early in the morning to build and install new equipment at the Wisner Playground. In partnership with KaBOOM, a national non-profit whose mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities, the group joined volunteers from Americorps and HandsOn New Orleans to erect a colorful swing set, spiral slide and rock climbing wall, and to build a stage and theater seating, picnic table sets and a pergola. With the clock ticking and a storm threatening, the volunteers completed all projects in record time.
’HandsOn New Orleans is grateful for corporate groups like Kaiser Permanente who engage in service projects that help support ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans,’ said Kertrina Watson Lewis, HandsOn New Orleans’s executive director. ’Over the past four years, the folks from Kaiser Permanente have positively impacted our lives and neighborhoods, modeling what it means to be a good corporate citizen, as well as a good friend. Thank you.’
Each of the volunteers who served on this project in 2010 has committed to lead a community service project in their own community, applying the skills and learnings from the Gulf Coast service experience.