Group Uses Multimedia to Highlight Katrina Efforts

By Michael Tunison
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

Within the larger story of the destruction and the ongoing recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, Steve Friedman thinks the role played by volunteers has been severely neglected.

"These are the people doing all the heavy lifting and they're not heard from because they're not coming from a singular group," said Friedman, a Voice of America employee who lives in North Potomac. "We're trying to give a voice to these people, who have done so much."

Friedman is organizing a citizen media project to highlight stories of volunteers who have assisted with rebuilding the areas decimated by the storm two years ago. The group comprises retired professionals, high school students and Friedman's 21- and 23-year-old daughters. There is a Web site ( with their video testimonials.

There is also a public access series by the nonprofit that details the experiences of the people helping with the recovery efforts mixed with some travel stories. The show has started airing on several channels in the Washington area and Friedman said there are plans to expand elsewhere.

"Travel Television," the first half-hour show aired on Access Montgomery Channel 21 on Aug. 29, the second anniversary of the storm hitting Louisiana, and featured interviews with five local volunteers of organizations such as the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center and Common Cause.

Randy Bacon, the director of Behrend Builders, a volunteer group that repairs shelters, low-income homes and community centers in the District, appeared on the premiere. Video footage of the volunteers attempting to clear dilapidated homes with mold-blackened walls and rooms cluttered with debris and tattered furniture was shown.

"When we were working in our first house, we were still taking their belongings out of the house," Bacon said. "Their refrigerators hadn't been emptied and they had no electricity for that time so everything was stagnant. The smell on the streets was pretty horrible."

So far, six shows are in production, with two additional shows coming each month. The series is currently airing in Montgomery, Fairfax and Howard counties on public access channels as well as on the Dish Network. Future guests will include Peter Greenberg, the travel editor of NBC's "Today Show," Tim Zagat, the co-founder of Zagat Survey, and Eric Anderson, the co-founder of Space Adventures Ltd.

"We know, after all, that viewers may have a hard time tuning in on just a group of stories on Katrina volunteers, so we have to hook them with something," said Friedman, a member of the Montgomery Community Television board of directors.

Though several volunteers who appeared on last week's show expressed concern that the number of people traveling to the Gulf Coast is tapering off, Friedman said that the show is not intended as a recruitment tool for volunteers.

"What we're trying to create is an opportunity for awareness," he said. "There have been a number of unscrupulous organizations that try to recruit volunteers and take advantage of them. Our hope is that by having the Web site, blog, social media sites and the television show, a volunteer can relate a story of how they helped, what they did and what the viewer can do."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company