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Rebuilding Volunteer Meets First Lady

March 5, 2008

Alicia Duplessis

Narda Hernandez, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at Tulane University, was one of 10 young leaders invited to meet with first lady Laura Bush in New Orleans to discuss the successes and setbacks of community organizations developing post-Katrina health care, housing, employment and education.

Narda Hernandez greets first lady Laura Bush

Narda Hernandez, left, greets first lady Laura Bush before a discussion on New Orleans recovery. (Photo by Alicia Duplessis)

The roundtable meeting took place on Monday (March 3) in downtown New Orleans at Idea Village, an organization that encourages entrepreneurial ventures.

Hernandez says the meeting was an opportunity not only to talk about the work she does at the Tulane Community Health Center at Covenant House, but also to learn about other recovery efforts taking place in New Orleans.

"It was an eye-opener to meet so many other young people who really want to see New Orleans get back on its feet," says Hernandez, who hails from Laredo, Texas. "The commitment of everyone here is an attraction for others who want to help by getting involved."

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty in the United States. Founded as VISTA in 1965, it was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993.

"With 25 volunteers, Tulane has the largest number of VISTA Volunteers compared to any other higher education institution," says Vincent Ilustre, executive director of theĀ Tulane Center for Public Service.

"Our program is unique because most volunteers at those institutions stay on campus, but because of our unique situation in New Orleans, our VISTA volunteers work with community partner agencies, assisting them with accomplishing their missions. At the same time, they work with our Tulane students placed there as part of their public service graduation requirement."

Donald Powell, President George Bush's outgoing coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, and Supriya Jindal, wife of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also attended the roundtable discussion on Monday.

The small group discussed how America's perception of New Orleans affects those working to rebuild the city. Some attendees expressed increasing frustration with what they consider unbalanced attention given to the recovery problems over the challenges that are being met.

Bush praised the participants, assuring them that their hard work is not going unnoticed. People who haven't visited New Orleans to witness the extent of the recovery effort "don't know how huge it really is," Bush said. "It's hard everyday not to have a moment of discouragement. You just can't, because this is a long process."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000