Community Service

'Am I in America?'

July 01, 2007
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'Am I in America?'

By Claire Ippoliti

Editor's note: Claire Ippoliti, Philadelphia Federal Credit Union's vice president of lending, spent a week volunteering in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, an area devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans looks as though time has stood still. And while the water here has receded, nothing else has changed.

Not far away, the French Quarter looks as if it had never been touched by Hurricane Katrina or the flood waters. And yet, even though separated by mere miles, these two sections of the city are worlds apart.

As I stand in the Lower Ninth 18 months after the hurricane, I find myself asking, "Am I still in America?" The devastation lingers and is immense.

Still, the philosophy of people helping people is alive and well due to an organization called Emergency Communities (EC).

I recently took some time off to volunteer at EC's Goin' Home Community Café for a week. EC provides some basics to a community in desperate need—things like three meals a day, laundry, telephone and Internet access, children's programs, home gutting, and grass cutting—all free to local residents and volunteers still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

What touched me the most during my one-week stint was meeting the residents. Amidst the devastation, you could find Harold everyday at the center either writing poetry or offering help with some of the chores. If you happen to be in the center while Ralph is stopping by for a meal, you will be entertained by him singing beautiful love songs.

Second most impactful was the display of dedication and commitment from the volunteers. I do not know how they do it.

Imagine the personnel issues we all face each day in our respective offices. Now imagine that you live together 24 hours a day, work 14 to 16 hours most days, are short-staffed, and have to train new staff on a continual basis. Oh, by the way, the pay is zero, zilch, nothing.

Add to this the fact that your work environment is less than ideal (located in a high-crime area, dormitory sleeping arrangements, outdoor shower). It brings new meaning to the phrase "people helping people."

When I left the site, I cried for the residents who discovered that the physical tragedy of the storm paled in comparison to the continuous victimization by many. I cried because I was moved by the dedication of those involved with EC; because I was able to walk away and leave it behind—or could I?

Claire Ippoliti is vice president of lending at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union. She serves on the CUNA Lending Council's Executive Board and is a credit union development educator. Contact her at 215-934-4040.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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