While the history of New Orleans is hospitality, the city’s rise after Hurricane Katrina is the story of volunteering. In the months and years after the storm, countless people arrived in the city, joined hands with native residents and started rebuilding one room, one building, one street at a time.
Two of those out-of-towners were Teddy Nathan and Zach Cheney. When they crossed paths in 2011 in their early twenties, each already had several years’ worth of volunteering under their belts. Together, they now run NetWork Volunteers, a unique approach to community service and an organization that is helping transform New Orleans’ nonprofit industry.
Nathan arrived in 2006 to attend Tulane University and dove headfirst into volunteering, rebuilding houses, and serving as a tutor for children and adults. He worked with AmeriCorps Literacy Alliance and ran a student-led youth recreation program at a local community center. That led to a fellowship from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration that allowed Nathan to get involved in the creation of ServeNOLA and the Office Neighborhood Engagement.
Meanwhile, Cheney had spent time serving in triage centers in Houston and Baton Rouge after hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. After graduating from LSU and moving to New Orleans in 2009, Cheney worked in the hospitality and tourism industry, garnering key experience in customer service.
After meeting in 2011, they found a shared passion for serving the city’s rebuilding effort. But they also both saw what they describe as a disconnect between nonprofits’ needs and the resources available to them. Assets and people were getting into the city, but they weren’t always getting to the places where they were needed.
Nathan and Cheney’s solution was NetWork Volunteers, which helps direct volunteers and caters to “voluntourists” who combine vacation and community service.
It’s more than just a heartwarming story. Since forming in 2014, Nathan and Cheney have made a real difference in filling the gap they recognized.
NetWork Volunteers’ numbers shows they’ve connected more than 16,500 volunteers around the world with worthy New Orleans programs and nonprofits. Those volunteers have contributed more than 78,000 hours of service to 107 local nonprofits, while generating a total philanthropic impact of $1.9 million.
Learn more about NetWork Volunteers and the service programs it provides at networkvolunteers.org.