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Ask any resident in the Gulf Coast area about the impact of volunteer groups, and you are sure to hear words of praise. Kevin Cox, executive director of Hope Crisis Response Network (HCRN), will be among those singing them.
“We are fully booked with volunteer groups through year two, and have many lined up as we move into 2008,” says Mr. Cox, whose nonprofit organization is operating out of Gulfport, Mississippi. HCRN’s focus is on providing volunteer labor to support housing reconstruction. HCRN’s three-unit mobile base camp provides housing, showers and a kitchen for up to 40 volunteers at a time, who come in one-week increments.
“Our biggest challenge is to make sure we have skilled labor,” says Mr. Cox, who estimates that the ratio of unskilled to skilled workers is about 4:1. “We can build houses much quicker when we have more skilled labor.”
Thanks to a grant from AmeriCares, HCRN was able to hire a full-time quality construction director to oversee the projects. Monte Brennman, formerly a construction company owner from Fort Wayne, Indiana, had been volunteering full-time in the area when HCRN tapped him for the position. He, his wife, and their four children are now living in a mobile trailer as they support local residents in the ongoing rebuilding efforts.
Mr. Cox is quick to point out that despite the successes HCRN has had in moving lives forward this year, there are still many unresolved issues for local residents.
“Being able to put people back in a house is very rewarding, but the homeowners still have financial and emotional challenges. This post-stress environment is hard on homeowners, and the mental health component is still largely unaddressed.”