Respond & Rebuild
Samantha: Respond & Rebuild is doing amazing work helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy. How did the organization get started?
Shanna: We started as a group of six friends who had met on past disasters, doing disaster response. We literally started with one van and one pump and the six of us, and it has grown into a volunteer driven organization that sends out 150 volunteers a day.
Samantha: What do the volunteers do on a day to day basis?
Shanna: Volunteers are doing mucking, gutting, and mold remediation in Rockaway, New York, which is one of the areas that is most deeply affected [by Sandy] and one of the poorest areas. Most of our homeowners are uninsured, so they wouldn't have any way to have this work done if it were not for volunteer efforts. We go into homes, most of which have been completely saturated [by flood water], and we'll pull out all of their belongings that need to be thrown out, pull up the floorboards, take out all the drywall and insulation, and completely gut the home to prepare for the mold remediation process... There were thousands and thousands and thousands of homes that were flooded and affected by this.
Samantha: What have been some of the biggest challenges the organization has faced?
Shanna: Coordinating volunteers in disaster response is such a huge challenge because there's this intense amount of enthusiasm and people come together in this wonderful way, but it creates a lot of chaos. Everyone's in crisis mode, and there's a need to meet the immediate needs that victims face – getting them into shelters, feed them, clothe them. So meeting those immediate needs worked really well with the crisis response enthusiasm. But doing this sort of work that takes a bit more time and more structure, it can be difficult to balance those things: the crisis response mode, and the need for structured response. So one of our biggest challenges was harnessing the volunteer enthusiasm in a way that could work within our system, and that's why we started using Volunteer Scheduler Pro. By having a scheduling system, we were able to tap into that enthusiasm in a much more organized way.
Samantha: How did VSP help you harness the volunteer enthusiasm and desire to help out?
Shanna: It's very helpful that we can use [VSP] to cultivate relationships with our volunteers. This is a long-term project, and so we want to keep people involved and continue to give them the opportunity to help out as much as they want. If they aren't stored in some kind of a database, it's very easy to lose people in the mix. So we want to continue to engage those people and give them the opportunity to help out and really become a part of the project in the long term. It also helps for other purposes, like fundraising. A lot of people will come and be very motivated by this experience and they want to do something more, even if they don't have any more time to come out to New York to volunteer. VSP allows us to keep track of them and to keep in contact with them so that they can find other ways to get involved from home.
Samantha: How much of your resources were spent trying to manage and organize the volunteers before starting to use VSP?
Shanna: An incredible amount actually, and it was done in a very chaotic way. Before we started using Volunteer Scheduler Pro… a lot of our time and energy was going into figuring out how many volunteers were randomly showing up, how we could fit them in. Now, we don't have to spend our energy on figuring out how many volunteers we have showing up this morning so that we can start calling homeowners... It's definitely helped us be more organized, and that's huge. Especially to capture all that volunteer enthusiasm. It has been so much easier for volunteers to sign up – just in this last week alone, we've had over 250 new volunteers sign up and schedule to come out and volunteer with us. That's just amazing. It's incredible. It's really uplifting for us to be able to see those numbers and be like "Woah! Look at all these new people!"
Samantha: What is the most rewarding part of what you're doing?
Shanna: It's such a wonderful position to be in, because every single day I get to help people helping people. My job is to connect people that want to help with people who need help, and watch those relationships grow. I get to see volunteers leave in the morning with this enthusiasm…and then they come home very exhausted, very tired, and extremely fulfilled, and I get to be a part of creating that experience for them. Like I said, it's the best job in the entire world.
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