Late this summer, we celebrated the graduation of our 2020-2021 Corps Members and prepared to welcome a new cohort across six bayitim (houses) in five cities. In addition to new Service Corps programming in San Diego and our Jews of Color Bayit in New York, our New Orleans (NOLA) team was excited to be expanding by offering more Corps Member positions in NOLA than we ever have before.
And then, Hurricane Ida hit. The storm left more than a million homes and businesses without power and caused thousands to evacuate New Orleans — making the work of our Corps Members even more critical.
To ensure their safety, Avodah postponed the NOLA Corps Members’ arrival and offered to find them new placements in one of our other cities — no one took the offer. Instead, they unanimously agreed to keep their commitment to the New Orleans community, even if it meant they could not do work in person for the first few weeks of the service year.
Ellie Moskowitz dove in right away, helping her placement organization respond to the disaster remotely. She serves as the Employment/Benefits Intake & Case Coordinator for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), which provides legal assistance to low-income individuals. In the wake of Ida, SLLS is helping families who were denied FEMA assistance go through an appeals process.
“The work SLLS does is incredible, and they do so much across the board,” Ellie says, “I am doing so much post-hurricane work. Many people were still suffering from the impact of Katrina — there are so many issues to be addressed.”
In her role, Ellie is the first point of contact for folks seeking SLLS’ assistance. She conducts intake and helps ensure clients and the SLLS attorneys have what they need. A Michigan native, Ellie may be new to hurricanes, but she came to Avodah with an established passion for community work. Post-graduation from Elon University, Ellie knew she wanted to do something service-based.
“Avodah checked all my boxes. New Orleans specifically was a huge draw for me,” she said. “It’s a phenomenal city with such a rich culture and history. Legal services are not something I necessarily expected myself to try, but SLLS clicked for me. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and do more work on the ground.”
In addition to clicking with her placement, Ellie has enjoyed getting to know her housemates. While they are now together in person, our NOLA Corps Members kept in touch as they waited to move into their bayit (house).
“We were talking virtually and texting all the time. I knew that once we were together it was going to be incredible. They are all such amazing people who are so passionate and care so much about this work. I am excited to be working with these folks and I can tell already I am going to be learning so much from them.”
While the work is difficult at times, Ellie is grateful to be able to contribute to Hurricane Ida relief efforts and help SLLS assist NOLA community members.
“I have definitely heard challenging stories,” she says, “If I am hearing from them, they have most likely been denied some sort of assistance. I may be talking to people about some of the worst points of their lives, but I get to be there for them that day and help them.”