Live United: Show the Spirit of Louisiana on 9/11

Our Tributes are organized by Volunteer! United (V!U), a non-profit agency dedicated to mobilizing people and resources to deliver creative solutions to community needs.  V!U was incorporated in 1988; in 2009 V!U merged with Capital Area United Way.  Our mission has been, and remains, to connect people in the community with meaningful ways to serve.  All three of V!U’s programs—Youth Volunteer Corps, Hands On, and RSVP—will be mobilizing 9/11 volunteers.

V!U  will invite the community to Join the Tribute by engaging in one or more of three types of activities:  writing letters of appreciation to military service members, collecting care package items for those members, and decorating banners to show appreciation for local first responders.  We also plan to host a reflection event, perhaps showing the film New York Says Thank You, and engaging in a discussion about the continuing need for service in our communities. 

The people of Louisiana have always responded deeply to 9/11.  In the year following the tragedy, for example, Louisiana citizens contributed funds that enabled the construction of three fire trucks for New York.  V!U has planned projects specifically in response to the 3rd reason stated by the families of 9/11 victims in working to establish the 9/11 National Day of Service & Remembrance:  “to pay tribute to . . . those who continue to defend our nation at home and abroad.”  Through letter-writing and care package collection we seek to pay Tribute to our state’s military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; through a banner of appreciation project we seek to pay Tribute to our local first responders.  Our activities are intended to address two community needs:  to demonstrate community support to our military, who come in large numbers from low-income backgrounds, and to strengthen community relationships with first responders.  Moreover, we seek to engage community members in reflection of how we all—not just our military service personnel and first responders—can live lives of ongoing service.

The poverty rate ($22,350 income annually, for a family of 4’s subsistence) in Louisiana is over 17.5%, the second highest rate in the country; poverty rates in our rural areas reach over 20%.  Due to actual costs of living, the term “low-income” commonly refers to a rate of 150-200% of the federal poverty rate—so $33,525-$44,700 for a family of 4.   Under this more realistic gauge of income capacity, approximately 46% of Louisiana’s residents under 18 live in low-income families.

Unsurprisingly, a large number of our community members look to the National Guard as a source of financial opportunity.  Indeed, the Guard’s primary recruiting messaging emphasizes that service in the Guard provides a way for service members to 1) get to school (whether a technical, community, or other college—and to obtain a GED if needed) and 2) learn competitive workforce skills.  A late 2009 report notes that, unlike in other states which have experienced some recruiting difficulties, recruitment levels for the Louisiana National Guard remain strong.  Furthermore, our Guard personnel have faced high levels of deployment in the wars: “On a per capita basis, Louisiana is second only to Alabama in the number of times its National Guard soldiers and airmen have been deployed to the two combat zones.”  Not only do these community members in uniform greatly deserve and need to feel community support, our community can also be better educated about the level of sacrifice that these service members make, so that more community support is extended also to military families and returning veterans.

At a more local level, our city witnessed 10 violent crimes per day in 2009, and 27% of our citizens reported being victimized by crime in 2010.  Simultaneously, each year nearly 10% of high school students drop out of school.  High crime rates, along with high poverty rates and poor education rates, can equal a bad perception of “community outsiders,” especially of law enforcement.  Indeed, community-wide the rating of law enforcement officers has continued to decline, now to a rating of 3.5 out of 5 (when comparable government departments enjoy ratings of 4.5).

By working with community organizations and especially with schools on service-learning projects to decorate banners to show appreciation for first responders, our young community members will have an opportunity to learn positive ways first responders serve our communities.  These lessons and discussions may help to eliminate fears community members have about those emergency personnel and help lead to a better future relationship.  Moreover, these demonstrations of appreciation from the community may also lead those first responders to feel more closely tied to and bonded with their local communities, thereby working to improve the relationship from both directions.

V!U plans to engage 1000+volunteers.

By offering community members a range of opportunities for involvement, V!U hopes to begin to reach a broader swath of the community, including more of those 70% of Americans who say they want to be involved in a 9/11 service activity, than we usually reach.  We also want to establish the 9/11 Day in the minds of community members as an important and recurring day of service in the community.  We would like this 9/11 Day to help serve as a launching point for continuing service, including at upcoming national service days, such as Make a Difference Day.  Finally, we want further to establish an awareness in the community that we are their Volunteer Center, that we are a source of service information for them, and that we can help facilitate their leadership in future planned service activities.

We will promote these 9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance activities through a variety of outreach.  In addition to promoting through our signature service programs, we hope to engage other community members in new service, by working with parish Libraries, schools, senior centers, non-profit partners, corporate partners and Scout programs.  We will also advertise through press releases, our newspaper column, our volunteer contact lists, and in conjunction with other community organizations currently planning to host commemorative events (an interfaith organization and two museums).