SHRM to Help Rebuild New Orleans at Annual Conference

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 2, 2009

By painting, caulking, laying sod and offering their time and talents, attendees at the 2009 SHRM Annual Conference in June will have a chance to make a difference for some New Orleans families.

While downtown New Orleans is back in business—704 New Orleans restaurants, nightspots and hotels are listed in the 2009 Zagat Survey—residential neighborhoods outside the downtown area still need rebuilding since hurricanes Katrina and Rita tore through the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

With this in mind, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is partnering with Beacon of Hope Resource Centerto provide hands-on help June 27 and June 28 at a worksite located about a 30-minute drive from the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.

Founded in 2006, Beacon of Hope has hosted more than 12,000 visitor volunteers working on cleaning neighborhoods and assisting homeowners around the city, according to that group’s web site.

SHRM volunteers will be working in the Gentilly community, a residential area of New Orleans where existing homes were flooded.

“They’ll be working with homeowners,” said Beth Grossman, manager, meetings and conferences for SHRM. “One house might need 10 people, one house might need 30 people,” she told SHRM Online and, because each home is in a different stage of reconstruction, specific tasks will vary from house to house.

Volunteers will be assigned tasks according to need; work will commence even in the event of inclement weather.

Offering conference attendees a chance to give back is something more organizations are doing. In 2008, attendees at a technologies conference worked with Beacon of Hope in a “Rebuild New Orleans Charity Project,” and in 2006 more than 900 librarians attending a conferencethere volunteered with recovery efforts.

The volunteer spirit burns brightly among SHRM members as well. In 2005, hundreds took time off to donate their talent to the American Red Cross on-site disaster sitesaround the Gulf Coast. And in 2007, nearly 100 people attending SHRM’s Staffing Management Conference in New Orleans participated in a Beacon of Hope-coordinated project in the Lakeview Community.

“We took out a lot of brush and a lot of overgrowth; we tore down some fencing that had deteriorated. It wasn’t that strenuous of a project,” although it was time consuming, recalled James Schwartz, SPHR, manager of employee services, University of Maryland.

Prior to the 2007 conference, Schwartz had attended the 2004 SHRM Annual Conference in New Orleans and hopes to attend the 2009 conference.

“The biggest thing was to see the actual devastation first-hand,” he told SHRM Online. “When you see it on the news reports and all, you don’t get a true feeling for how things were affected as if you were there in person.”

How to Volunteer

Online registration for the volunteer project begins Feb. 2 and closes May 29, with the number of volunteers limited to 250 people for June 27 and 250 people for June 28.

Registration also may be faxed to 504-524-1229.

Buses will transport volunteers to and from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where the Annual Conference will be held. Volunteers must be able to commit to the entire work shift.

The June 27 work shift is 8 a.m.-noon, followed by a box lunch and a tour of the area where the levees broke. The June 28 work shift is 7 a.m.-noon, followed by a box lunch. No tour will be given June 28, so that volunteers may return to the convention center in time for the conference’s opening session.

Skilled help is welcome but not required, according to Beacon of Hope’s web site. Tools and supplies will be provided, but volunteers may bring their own.

Upon arriving at the work area, volunteers will receive a 20-minute orientation that includes safety information. Volunteers also are to receive on-site training and tutorials for assigned tasks.

There is a $75 fee, which goes to Beacon of Hope to buy supplies for the house each person will work on. The fee also includes transportation to and from the work site, the June 27 tour, a box lunch, water and goggles. None of the fee goes to SHRM.

Non-SHRM members may participate, and persons as young as 12 may volunteer provided they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. All volunteers must sign a waiver; waivers for those under age 18 must be signed by a parent or guardian.

For help in registering online, call 504-524-0188 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (CST) Monday-Friday. For more information, go to

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

Related Article:

Good Times, Great Conference Ahead in New Orleans, HR News, Sept. 11, 2008

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