October 25, 2011
It’s been three years since Adrian Cohn (Class of 2010) served as president of Rollins Relief, a student organization working in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He participated in fundraising efforts, recruited volunteers and traveled to New Orleans, hammer and nails in hand.
This fall, Cohn returned to New Orleans to finish the mission he began at Rollins. In his role as an AmeriCorps Site Supervisor with St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding homes and lives impacted by the storm through direct service programs, he’s once again supporting the brick by brick rebuild efforts in the city. “New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but there is still a long way to go,” said Cohn. And he intends, for the next 10 months at least, to be there on that long journey.
Tell us about what you're doing in New Orleans?
As site supervisor, I am on a construction site every day, alongside many dedicated individuals who are volunteering to rebuild someone’s home. I am responsible for all aspects of a family’s rebuilding project on site. This includes teaching volunteers how to rebuild homes throughout each stage of construction, facilitating discussions about the impact of Katrina, interacting with the homeowners, ordering supplies to the site and ensuring high-quality standards of construction, safety and timeliness. I am rebuilding a city that is full of heart and soul; it’s incredibly rewarding.
What inspired you to specifically head to New Orleans with AmeriCorps?
I was born and raised in New York City, but my father’s side of the family is from New Orleans, so I have been taking in the Big Easy my whole life. This city has taught me so much of what I know about food, music and most importantly, people. The sense of community and resiliency in New Orleans is extremely powerful, and I am hungry to learn more from living here.
Why did you feel drawn to this type of work?
I value community engagement and I respect New Orleans. Over the past six years, I have been intricately involved in the rebuilding effort. At Rollins, I organized two immersions in New Orleans, documented our efforts through film and worked closely with local community leaders to provide students with a valuable service experience. We accomplished a lot, but more work needs to be done – lots more.
I feel honored to be a part of such an important movement: every day I work with people who are giving of their time or money with the goal of helping someone they have never met overcome an extraordinary challenge. In the field, I am presented with all sorts of problems that force me to think and act quickly. The impact on my short and long-term learning is evident: it is enhancing my life and the life of others.
What do you hope to accomplish over the next 10 months?
I have many goals, but the most evident for the next 10 months is to get families off of the waiting list and into their home. Come volunteer with me! In doing so, you will receive an incredibly rewarding experience and will help me reach other goals, like building relationships, honing in on my leadership skills and documenting this incredible experience through film.
How do you feel your Rollins experience influenced your decision to do what you are doing now?
Under the direction of Micki Meyer and Meredith Hein, the Office of Community Engagement offers a variety of direct service programs that were core to my education at Rollins. Everyone who goes to Rollins is afforded this excellent resource and can become an agent of change.
Programs like SPARC Day, Halloween Howl, Rollins Relief and Rollins Helping Haiti allowed me to obtain a more clear understanding for what community engagement means to me. I integrated these findings with my coursework in critical media and cultural studies and utilized the power of documentary film to show what I had learned. In my capstone film, “Our Community: Privilege and the Potential for Equality and Justice,” I use a postmodern lens to evaluate the importance of community engagement. After four years of personal experience, dozens of interviews and a literature review, my most important finding is that when you give, you receive. The success of our community relies on our engagement with one another.
What advice do you have for current Rollins students possibly thinking about pursuing service/non-profit work after graduation?
I recently finished an internship in New York with TCC Group, a management consulting firm that works with non-profits, foundations and corporate citizenship programs. Within weeks, I was immersed in half a dozen projects. I learned that there is a nonprofit for everything you can think of, and then some. So spend some time thinking about what you love, figure out what organizations work in that area and claw your way in. AmeriCorps is my answer, and I would encourage you to give it a shot, too.