Alex Epstein founded a volunteer organization during high school to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In 2006, Alex Epstein took a trip with about 50 students from his New York City high school to New Orleans to assist in the post-Hurricane Katrina efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward. Alex helped gut and rebuild numerous homes, knocked on the doors of those who had returned and spoke with them about what they had endured, in hopes on convincing them to attend survivor council meetings held within the community. He also became exposed to the injustice and neglect that residents of the Ninth Ward faced, and decided he could not walk away from such an overlooked dilemma. Determined to help other students experience the life-changing volunteer work he’d done in New Orleans, he created the New York 2 New Orleans (NY2NO) Coalition.
Since then, he has organized 22 trips for more than 500 high school students in New York City to visit New Orleans. His groups of volunteers have rebuilt homes, cleared lots, created gardens, and reconstructed the one high school in the Lower Ninth Ward. They have also knocked on hundreds of residents doors, connecting one on one to hear stories of survival and courage. Alex has recently expanded his program by partnering with NYC organizations to tackle the issues of social injustice that the poorest areas of New York City have long shared with New Orleans. This new initiative applies the lessons learned in New Orleans to NYC, by helping NYC students address problems in their own neighborhoods. Alex is also working to bring New Orleans students to NYC, to volunteer in Harlem and the South Bronx.
“Grassroots organizing empowers people and is one of the most effective ways of achieving social change,” explains Alex. “But what it really takes is time, patience and the willingness to listen to people and what they really have to say— to connect.”
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