Rebuilding Together: New Orleans Nonprofit Celebrates 25 Years of Service

September 30th, 2015 by Kiersten Kampschroeder

Next weekend kicks off the 25th annual October Build for local nonprofit Rebuilding Together (RT). Comprised of two weekends of service on homes for low-income families, the elderly or disabled, and military veterans, October Build is the organization’s largest event and hosts hundreds of volunteers both from New Orleans and all over the country. I’m pretty excited to be one of them.

My first hands-on experience with Rebuilding Together was during the Citywide Day of Service for Katrina 10. I, along with about 20 Tulane, Chevron, and other corporate volunteers, met a woman named Ms. Fernanda in St. Roch, and we all worked on removing lead paint and priming her home. Hers was one of five sites that RT worked on that day, from painting to building new stairs and helping with other more intensive carpentry projects.

Shell Volunteers and RT Staff Member at K10 Service Day, Photo Credit: Jon Skvarka

Shell Volunteers and RT Staff Member at K10 Service Day, Photo Credit: Jon Skvarka

Needless to say, I really enjoyed the experience of volunteering and seeing a new side of New Orleans. So it seemed fitting to write about my experience and about the organization that facilitated it. To learn more about Rebuilding Together and put it in an online marketing scope, I interviewed Executive Director Jon Skvarka.

We met at RT headquarters in the Resource Preservation Center on Tchoupitoulas and sat down at a conference table on the ground level, surrounded by an exhibit of the historic neighborhoods of New Orleans.

The Origins of Rebuilding Together New Orleans and October Build

Rebuilding Together was formed in 1988 in tandem with its sister program, Operation Comeback. Operation Comeback, says Jon, began in order to preserve and restore historic homes in New Orleans in preparation for sale. Conversely, Rebuilding Together would preserve and maintain homes of lower income, but long-standing, homeowners in order to preserve neighborhoods.

Volunteers from Regions Bank - Christmas in October 1992, Photo Credit: RT Staff Member

Volunteers from Regions Bank – Christmas in October 1992, Photo Credit: RT Staff Member

Originally called Christmas in October, October Build formed out of the original service day that Rebuilding Together produced. It’s continued to grow since its inception and now services seven neighborhoods with the help of individual and corporate volunteers and a team of Americorps members.

Leveraging Their Online Presence

Social media and an online presence aren’t always the highest priority for nonprofits, but Rebuilding Together maintains a simple but updated website, along with profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. These, says Jon, are meant primarily to “thank and engage” volunteers for their help, with before-and-afters, sponsor shout-outs, and volunteer photos available to the public. Updated and rebranded in 2008, the website serves more as a landing for potential and current national volunteers. According to Jon, the site is invaluable for those looking for volunteer opportunities outside of the more well-known national organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

And in terms of online marketing, they send out one or two emails per year to volunteers and focus heavily on maintaining quality content for their website. Though they may try to focus more on building their online presence in the future, RT has been steadfast in keeping up with basic online and digital trends, and, as Jon says, it shows with how well they’ve been able to retain and build their volunteer base, both for October Build and year-round projects.

The New Orleans Experience

As something of an Americorps groupie, I’ve noticed that New Orleans has a high retention for its members. This includes Jon, who first started at RT in 2007 as an Americorps member, and most Rebuilding Together staff are former Americorps members as well. Jon explains that it was the opportunity to participate in preserving New Orleans culture and community that first led him to stay with RT, and I think this is the case for many volunteers, too.

One of the organization’s future goals is to build their base of local volunteers, which falls in line with their focus on sustainable post-Katrina funding. The challenge, Jon says, is getting them on-site. Once they’re there, it’s hard not to be hooked. I can most definitely attest to that; I’ll be on-site for all four days of October Build.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Rebuilding Together website. October Build takes place October 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 10th!