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Expressions of gratitude to the many thousands of volunteers who flocked to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have ranged from teary embraces to thank you dinners and official proclamations. But now, a group of citizens is rallying support for a plan to erect a permanent and richly symbolic memorial to the contributions volunteers have made throughout the recovery.

Called the Hurricane Katrina Volunteer Memorial Fountain, the project is planned for the highway welcome center at the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, the two states hardest hit by the storm.

“I don’t think the country fully realizes the extent of the contribution volunteers have made here,” says Jim Seglund, a Diamondhead, Miss., resident who conceived the project. “People from every state and from other countries came here and continue to pour in to help us, people of every age, from every walk of life. I don’t think there’s been anything like this response.”

The focal point of the memorial fountain will be a wave-shaped obelisk standing 30 feet tall to symbolize the towering storm surge that hit parts of the Gulf Coast. A long granite wall in front of the fountain will mount bronze plaques describing the disaster and the dedication of volunteers and listing the donors who contribute to funding the project, as well as the names of all the communities across the Gulf Coast affected by Katrina.

The project is a grassroots effort. While the Mississippi legislature authorized the use of a portion of the Interstate-10 welcome center in Hancock County, Seglund’s group has received no public money. Fundraising is now underway for the project’s estimated $1.5 million price tag. 

Plans for the memorial come as the region has begun assessing just how valuable the goodwill of volunteers has been to the long recovery. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that more than 550,000 Americans participated in the volunteer effort in the first year after Katrina and that approximately 600,000 came during the second year. Together, these 1.1 million people have performed some 14 million hours of volunteer work, from feeding and sheltering evacuees, to tutoring school children, to gutting and repairing homes.
“As the rebuilding effort continues, volunteers will remain a critical source of hope and help in the Gulf,” Federal Recovery Chief Donald Powell said during an August visit to New Orleans. “I encourage more Americans to get involved, because the government cannot bring these communities back alone.”

For information about the Volunteers Memorial Fountain and its fundraising campaign, go to www.katrinafountain.org or call (228) 255-3451. – I.M.

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