Chris Graythen/NBAE via Getty Images
Since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city seven years ago, forcing the cancellation of AARP's 2005 national event there, members have pitched in to help the city recover. Now thousands are planning to arrive from all over the country for this year's event, and their interest in helping New Orleans is so great that slots for the volunteer opportunities are going fast.
Convention-goers can choose from 12 distinct projects, depending on interest and ability. You can cultivate an edible school garden, sort food at the Second Harvest Food Bank or help upgrade a city park. You can even sort Mardi Gras beads for Carnival.
The volunteers will meet the homeowners, at least one of whom is also an AARP member. Linda Devoy lives in the Hollygrove neighborhood with her husband, Spencer Livingston, in a century-old, lilac-colored bungalow.
Since Katrina had flooded the neighborhood with three feet of water, they've had plenty of work to do, says Devoy, who's 64, but she and Livingston, 59, have been inhibited by health problems. So while Livingston was able to paint most of the house, he never finished it. "It was just too much," says Devoy. There are white patches on the house's exterior, and now the weeds are growing over the sidewalk and the blue trim is peeling.
When Devoy read that the AARP member event was coming to town this year, she contacted the coordinators and asked if she could be assisted as part the members' volunteer program, and was grateful to qualify through Habitat for Humanity. "To have the house looking good and have these projects completed would just mean so much," she says. "It would just really give us a lift and help the city."
Aleis Tusa, director of communications for New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, says she's "thrilled" AARP members are coming to help out, and notes that the projects will be assigned by each volunteer's capability, whether it's painting or weeding or hammering nails. At the end of the day, "they'll probably be a little sore, a little tired. But when you're doing this kind of thing," says Tusa, "that's just the best feeling."
Also of interest: See all that New Orleans has to offer.