CLAREMONT, Calif. — When communities around the world are struck by disaster, people feel compelled to help and support the cause, but often aren’t exactly sure how they can make a difference. To provide a place for normal citizens to get involved and contribute to natural disaster relief, All Hands Volunteers functions as one of the most influential nonprofit organizations, making a constructive impact on in-need communities.
This year, All Hands received the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Member of the Year Award. NVOAD member organizations focus on addressing all parts of the disaster response process, including preparedness, relief, response, recovery and mitigation, to serve survivors and their communities.
Providing these objectives with a dedicated volunteer team in the most effective way possible is the driving force behind All Hands. Since their first year, All Hands has increased from one project per year to 11 in 2013 and eight in 2014, with a total of 35,000 or more families assisted.
Founder David Campbell felt compelled and inspired to act after learning about the devastation brought on by the 2004 tsunami on Thailand’s coast. At age 63, Campbell packed his bags and equipment and traveled by himself to Thailand. There, he found many individuals like himself, who had come from around the world with a desire to help.
However, he found that people were being turned away and discouraged by larger organizations, and he decided to make a change. Campbell and other volunteers formed a group to connect those who wanted to help with those in need, beginning with the rebuilding of five Phuket fishing villages.
Campbell co-founded All Hands the following year in response to Hurricane Katrina, and since then has spearheaded the organization’s service to communities struck by natural disasters.
“Everywhere we went, we asked the survivors what they needed. And we helped,” Campbell said in an All Hands promotional video. “Hands and wheel barrows, shovels, and sweat: Our family continued to grow.”
While governmental organizations often arrive to help with relief in the immediate wake of a disaster, All Hands functions on a more long-term, individual-need basis. The organization is able to help individuals or small groups solve threatening and expensive-fix problems that they would not be able to solve in the short term or without a team of volunteers. In this way, All Hands differs in offering committed volunteers over a long-term period, extending up to and beyond eight-month long projects in individual areas.
Though All Hands is based in the United States, the 501© 3 nonprofit has founded projects all around the world. Current projects include Project Staten Island in New York in response to Superstorm Sandy, Project Bohol, an earthquake response, Project Leyte, a typhoon response in the Phillipines and Project Itawamba in Mississippi in response to this spring’s intense tornado devastation.
As its projects span the globe, All Hands’ volunteers come from far and wide to serve at devastation sites. Since the organization does not have a religious affiliation, it appeals to a wide variety of volunteers and finds its niche among organizations functioning independent of religious service. Volunteers can commit to months of volunteering, or help over shorter time periods.
In 2013, All Hands had over 3,500 volunteers from more than 42 countries volunteer on U.S. and international projects, some of which have worked on multiple projects.
“It’s nice to be with people who have had experience with All Hands and keep coming back- that says a lot about the organization to me,” volunteer Monique Pilié said in an interview with All Hands.
Volunteers can get involved by filling out an application for specific projects, in which All Hands provides meals, basic accommodation and the support for a productive, positive volunteer experience.
“By giving ordinary people the ability to make a difference, we’ve helped tens of thousands of families when they needed it most,” Campbell said. “Now you can’t predict when the next disaster is going to strike, but when it does, we’ll be ready.”