Centers connect refugees


    By Jessica Gurnsey

    As the phone rings, Adrienne Gabriel doesn?t know what to expect. The person on the other line could need simple information, taking only seconds of Adrienne?s day, or it could be someone in crisis, requiring up to 20 minutes of a listening ear and friendly voice to calm and comfort.

    Paul Wilson?s time is spent on the computer, answering the 5-to-10 e-mails received every minute. Around him, others are busy checking e-mails and making follow-up telephone calls.

    More than 1600 miles apart, these two BYU graduates are working to ease the suffering of Hurricane Katrina victims by volunteering at call centers.

    ?The motto of BYU, enter to learn, go forth to serve, is what we are accomplishing here,? Wilson said.

    Gabriel, who graduated in August with a major in marriage, family and human development, was sent to Louisiana by the local United Way to work in a 2-1-1 call center, where they match those wanting to help with those needing help.

    Gabriel?s day starts early; she works a twelve-hour shift, trains three groups of new volunteers each day and answers phones.

    Calls come from people who are missing loved ones and want to know how to find them, people needing to be put on emergency food stamp programs and people needing long-term solutions, such as housing and employment, said Mary Alice Cannon of United Way.

    Gabriel said, ?Talking to somebody who really appreciates the information and then comes back and says, ?you?ve really helped me, thank you,?? is the most rewarding part of her job.

    Twenty to thirty people work in the call center around the clock, helping people from the entire state of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi.

    Gabriel said the most frustrating part of her work in Louisiana is trying to discredit or validate rumors.

    ?Some people have nothing and are at the end of their rope,? she said. ?It?s hard when you don?t have answers for them.?

    Paul Wilson, a philosophy student who graduated in April, is working toward a similar goal as director of a new non-profit organization, matches people willing to open their homes to victims of Hurricane Katrina in need of housing.

    Local businesses have taken turns handling the thousands of calls that come in each day. Two-thirds of all the calls received are survivors in need of housing.

    Wilson has 3-to-5 volunteers at his Provo office to help answer the e-mails spawned from his website. The group has matched more than 4,000 survivors with housing in the past two weeks.

    Anyone interested in volunteering should go to Volunteers are especially needed between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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