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RIMS community service day returns to New Orleans after post-Katrina launch

Posted On: Apr. 2, 2015 12:00 AM CST

In 2007, the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. held its annual conference and exhibition in New Orleans, just two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and surrounding region.

While there, RIMS hosted a comedy show to raise money toward providing the New Orleans Fire Department with an emergency command vehicle, and members helped to clean City Park, which was still littered with debris from the devastating storm.

“It was really, really fulfilling to try to put something back together that was destroyed by Katrina,” said RIMS Executive Director Mary Roth, who participated in the cleanup. “It was a great turnout.”

This April, nearly 10 years after Katrina, RIMS 2015 attendees will continue their restoration efforts by aiding the St. Bernard Project national disaster recovery program. Attendees also will help feed local at-risk children with nonprofit organization Blessings in a Backpack.

Conference attendees can volunteer with the organization to help rebuild 10 to 15 of the thousands of homes destroyed by the hurricane during Community Service Day from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. April 26.

St. Bernard Project rebuilds homes in areas affected by natural disasters, including New Orleans, Joplin, Missouri, New York and New Jersey, according to the organization's development manager, Elizabeth Eglé. Since it was founded in 2006, the organization has built 895 homes nationally, and 584 of those homes are located in New Orleans, Ms. Eglé said.

That number changes weekly, she said: “We have closing ceremonies pretty much every week. What that means is we're welcoming a family back to the home that they own.”

St. Bernard Project first began reconstructing homes in its namesake area, St. Bernard Parish, which was left completely uninhabitable following Katrina. The project has since extended its rebuilding efforts throughout other parts of the city, as well as nationally, Ms. Eglé said.

It relies on the AmeriCorps program, individual volunteers, and a staff made up of veterans and at-risk youth to keep the program running — and it's growing. The St. Bernard Project will have about 7,400 volunteers work in New Orleans by the end of the year, a 10% increase in volunteers from last year, Ms. Eglé said.

She said volunteers from RIMS can expect to hang insulation and drywall, lay hardwood floors, paint walls and hang trim.

They also will have a chance to speak with the families of the homes they will be rebuilding, said Jillian Walsh, director of community investment for Zurich North America, which is sponsoring RIMS Community Service Day.

“I think that's what makes it worthwhile,” said Ms. Walsh, who has participated in other home building with the St. Bernard Project. “Once you meet the family, it really humanizes this house and it makes you work harder, frankly.”

Ms. Walsh said RIMS is expecting 100 to 150 attendees to help build the homes, which are located in the Gentilly and New Orleans East neighborhoods of the city. Those areas, part of Orleans Parish, were among those that suffered the most damage from Katrina, Ms. Eglé said.

Interested conference attendees can sign up to participate on the RIMS website.

During the conference, attendees also will fill backpacks with nonperishable foods and books for Blessings in a Backpack, a national organization that provides children in the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal Plan Program with food for 38 weekends during the school year.

According to its website, Blessings in a Backpack feeds more than 72,000 elementary school children in 700 schools in the United States. The backpacks are filled with easy-to-prepare and ready-to-eat foods, such as granola bars and oatmeal, according to the organization's website.

Tables will be set up in the RIMS conference exhibit hall, where attendees can drop by between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 28 to pack as many bags as they wish, said Jenae O'Neil, community investment program manager for Zurich North America.

She said RIMS' goal is to pack 250 backpacks, which will then be delivered to the local Educare school, which serves at-risk children from infant to age 5.

This year's conference marks RIMS' ninth Community Service Day, an annual event the society launched during the New Orleans conference in 2007.

“When we bring a conference to a city, we take over all the restaurants and the venues, and we have a lot of people there,” Ms. Roth said. “It's our way of giving back — or, when we leave, leaving a little something behind.”