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SHRM Takes a Day to Help Rebuild New Orleans

June 27, 2009
Related Topics: Career Development, The HR Profession, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
Dozens of boxed lunches sat on air-conditioned buses as the noontime temperatures in New Orleans soared into the low 90s, but for a portion of the 75 or so SHRM members participating in Saturday’s “Voluntourism” event, Martinez McConduit was serving up plates of red beans and rice and bowlfuls of gumbo inside her red-brick home.

The 81-year-old great-grandmother said serving up a down-home meal was her way of giving back to the dozens of SHRM volunteers who were helping to rebuild her Gentilly Terrace neighborhood.

“These people are here to help me and my neighbors,” she said between posing for pictures with the SHRM members who arrived before the 61st Annual SHRM Conference & Exposition officially opens Sunday afternoon just to participate in the Voluntourism event. Another group of SHRM volunteers will participate Sunday morning.

“I just want to thank them in some way,” McConduit said. “These are very special people.”

Voluntourism was put on by the Beacon of Hope Resource Center, and SHRM is just one of dozens of organizations that participate in such an event during their New Orleans visits.

“I came to New Orleans in January to research a number of volunteer opportunities to reach out and help victims of Hurricane Katrina,” said Beth Grossman, SHRM’s meeting manager. “I picked Beacon of Hope because it was such a good fit for SHRM. We wanted it to be personal for our attendees, to get a chance to meet the homeowners and hear their personal stories.”

Grossman added that the volunteer event before the conference provides a unique networking opportunity as well.

“This offers human resources people a chance to meet in an environment they would never experience otherwise,” she said.

Cheryl Wesley, director of HR for St. John’s Community Services in Washington, D.C., was busy laying sod with several SHRM volunteers in the front yard of a neighborhood home. She jumped at the opportunity when she heard about the event.

“I’ve done a lot of service projects through my church,” she said. “But with SHRM, this is like an extension of what we do in our daily working lives. We help our employees and now we’re here helping the people of New Orleans.”

Jo Ann Gooding, who was also laying sod, added, “We as an organization feel the need to reach out to the community.”

Gooding, vice president of HR for Jupiter, Florida-based beer distributor J.J. Taylor Cos., said that because her industry is tightly knit, there are just a small number of people in distribution.

“There aren’t hundreds of thousands who do what we do, so we know the devastation people in our industry went through here. Knowing we could come and give back to the community allowed us to help some of the people in our business too.”

Down the street working in the broad grass-covered median, Trish Schuman and Colleen McAuliffe had already planted their third tree. The pair had never met before, yet they quickly developed a friendship.

“This event really defines our industry,” said McAuliffe, vice president of HR for Phipps Houses in New York. “HR provides guidance, gets people together. A team effort can be on the job or helping others in need.”

Added Schuman, director of HR for LCG Systems in Rockville, Maryland, “I think an event like this makes us even more passionate about what we do every day.”

Beacon of Hope president Denise Thornton, who founded the nonprofit organization after the levee at the 17th Street Canal failed during Katrina and flooded her entire Lakeview neighborhood, said conventions come to New Orleans seeking service projects. Beacon of Hope then figures out the best project of the 16 sites it has available.

The visiting organization provides a donation for the materials and Beacon of Hope offers the volunteer coordinators, as well as a network of neighbors to help.

Thornton said that last year, Starbucks had 2,000 volunteers in one day—1,000 in the morning and 1,000 more in the afternoon.

“We pulled it off,” she laughed. “And we got a lot done.”

SHRM volunteers planted nearly 60 oleanders and 50 trees, as well as laying numerous palettes of sod.

Jason Ferrara, the vice president of corporate marketing for Chicago-based CareerBuilder, was one of about 20 staffers from the job board giant working in the late-morning heat. CareerBuilder, he said, teamed with SHRM to sponsor the event.

“Volunteering and philanthropy are two cornerstones of CareerBuilder,” said Ferrara, who was planting trees with CareerBuilder director of strategic services Mike Dutter and integration sales engineer manager Kerry Innis. “We saw an opportunity to give back and we jumped on it.”

SHRM’s Grossman was pleased with the turnout and appreciative of the community’s support.

“This is our first year doing a volunteer project at the annual conference,” she said. “This is a really good group, and hopefully they’ll spread the word. We’d like to do start doing this every year in every city.”

Download your FREE Workforce Management 2009 SHRM Show Guide. Visit Workforce Management at SHRM 2009—Booths 1947-1948. Go to for full SHRM 2009 conference coverage.

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