Choose to Make a Difference

The disaster in New Orleans makes at least one thing clear -- the importance of serving our communities and being there for one another.

| Thu Sep. 8, 2005 2:00 AM EDT

THE TRADITIONS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE and citizen participation have been at the heart of American civic culture since before the nation was founded. Historically, our greatest strength as a nation has been to be there for one another. Citizen participation has been the lifeblood of democracy. As Thomas Paine put it, "The highest calling of every individual in a democratic society is that of citizen!" Accidents of nature and abstract notions of improvement do not make our communities better or healthier places in which to live and work. They get better because people like you decide that they want to make a difference.

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Volunteering is not a conservative or liberal, Democratic or Republican issue; caring and compassion simply help to define us as being human.

It is within our power to move beyond a disaster and economic crisis like the one that has engulfed New Orleans and to create new opportunities. What it comes down to is assuming personal responsibility. If we decide to become involved in voluntary efforts, we can restore idealism, realism, responsiveness, and vitality to our institutions and our communities.

At her memorial service, it was said of Eleanor Roosevelt, the most influential American woman of the twentieth century, that "she would rather light a candle than curse the darkness." What was true for her then is true for us now. The choice to make a difference is ours.

How to help those individuals and communities hurt by Hurricane Katrina through donations and volunteering.

The following organizations and groups that provide direct emergency assistance:

American Red Cross
(800) HELP NOW (435-7669) English; (800) 257-7575 Spanish
web site

America"s Second Harvest
(800) 344-8070
web site

American Friends Service Committee
(215)241-7000
web site

B'nai B'rith International
(888) 388-4224
web site

Catholic Charities, USA
(703) 549-1390
web site

Christian Disaster Response
(941) 956-5183
web site

Church World Service
(800) 297-1516
web site

Feed The Children
(800) 525-7575
web site

Lutheran Disaster Response
(800) 638-3522

Oxfam America
(800) 77-OXFAM or (617)482-1211
web site

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
(800)872-3283
web site

Salvation Army
(800 725-2769
web site

Southern Baptist Disater Relief
(800) 462-8657
web site

Union For Reform Judaism
(212) 650-4140
web site

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
(617)868-6600
web site

United Jewish Communities
(877) 277-2477
web site

United Methodist Committee On Relief
(800)554-8583
web site

Volunteers of America
(800) 899-0089
web site

YMCA of the USA
(800) 872-9622
web site

YWCA of the USA
(800) YWCA US1
web site

The following organizations and groups provide direct or indirect assistance and/or advocate for policies and programs to assist victims or stricken communities. This is particularly important because of the failure of the federal government and this administration to provide leadership and competence before and during the disaster. Voluntary efforts should not be a substitute for government action, and advocacy groups must take the initiative to assure that the government fulfills its responsibility to the American people.

ACORN
(877) 55ACORN
web site

Campaign for America's Future
(202) 955-5665
web site

Catholic Campaign for Human Development
(202) 541-3000
web site

Center for Health, Enviroment and Justice
(703) 237-2249
web site

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
(202) 408-1080
web site

Children's Defense Fund
(202) 628-8787
web site

City Year
(617) 927-2500
web site

Coalition on Human Needs
(202) 223-2532
web site

Common Cause
(800)926-1064
web site

Community Action Partnership
(202)265-7546
web site

Corporation for Supportive Housing
(212) 986-2966 ext. 500
web site

Field Mobilization Departmentof the AFL-CIO
(202)637-5000
web site

Habitat for Humanity
(229) 924-6935
web site

MoveOn.org
web site

NAACP
(877) NAACP-98
web site

National Congress for Community Economic Development
(877) 44-NCCED or 202 289-9020
web site

National Council of La Raza
(800)311-NCLR
web site

National Neighborhood Coalition
(202) 408-8533
web site

National Urban League
(212) 558-5300
web site

National Mental Health Association
(800)969-6642
web site

People for the American Way
(800) 326-7329
web site

Project America
(804) 358-1605
web site

Sierra Club
(415) 977-5500
web site

In addition to contributing money, basic supplies and services; the healthiest response for individuals is to volunteer to do community service in your own home town.

For a more complete in-depth list see: Make A Difference: America's Guide to Volunteering and Community Service by Arthur I. Blaustein (Jossey Bass/Wiley)

Please contribute to the health and vitality of our communities by sharing this list with as many people as possible.