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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Desiree Sayle
Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of USA Freedom Corps

September 8, 2005

Desiree Sayle

Thank you for joining me this afternoon as we discuss short- and long-term volunteer opportunities to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers will play a critical role in the weeks and months ahead. We are working with Federal agencies like the Corporation for National and Community Service, DHS and FEMA, national not for profit organizations, foundations, volunteer centers, corporations and private volunteer organizations to develop a system that will better coordinate volunteers with the needs of the victims. The first priority for USA Freedom Corps is to ensure that the victims of this terrible tragedy receive private resources, including financial donations and volunteer help, in a way that is effective and efficient.

Amber, from Pelham, Alabama writes:
As I watch the devistation that has happened and is happening in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama, I am saddened and want to do something. I don't have a lot of money to give, however, I have noticed that there are places for these evacuees to recieve clean dry clothes. I know that I can donate clothes that are no longer used by my husband, children and myself. Where can I take these items to help my fellow southerners in their time of need?

Desiree Sayle
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is heartbreaking, but the resolve of Gulf Coast residents and the outpouring of support from their fellow Americans bring us hope. Like you, many people want to know how they can contribute to the relief and recovery efforts.

At this stage, the most effective way people can help the victims of Hurricane Katrina is by making cash donations. Right now, the need for in-kind contributions as well as volunteer service is limited. And the best place for Americans to volunteer is in their own backyards. In the coming weeks, months and years, there will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer and engage in ongoing relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region. We will have that information on our website when it becomes available. To find local volunteer opportunities in your community now, such as volunteering in a Red Cross Call Center or participating in a local fundraiser, visit

None, from Illinois writes:
What about all the disaster assistance employees in the other regionsof the country who were trained last year. The president and others in goverment say they are using all resourses It dose not seem that way.

Desiree Sayle
FEMA is working very hard to identify roles for all their disaster assistance employees. My understanding is that if you are a disaster assistance employee (DAE) with FEMA, you are already on their Automated Disaster Deployment (ADD) system. You may want to contact FEMA through the ADD system and let them know that you are available to work.

If you are a Citizen Corps volunteer and participated in last year’s Hurricane response there is not a massive national call going out at this time. The various state and local governments are using their Citizen Corps volunteers to support the local response efforts. If you would like to volunteer locally, please contact the Citizen Corps Council nearest to you. A complete listing is found at

Jeremy, from Fairport,NY writes:
I was wondering why flags were asked to be put at half mast for the tsunami last year, but there has been no word about half mast nationally for the victims of New Orleans. I work at a school and I remember a memo coming from Commisioner Mills reqesting all schools and businesses to go half mast for the Tsunami victims. I realize that the death toll was probably much higher in that case, but when it comes to a tradgedy of our own people I find is irresponsible that as a country we don't come together to show a sign of solidarity.

Desiree Sayle
As a mark of respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the President ordered on September 4, 2005 that that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, Tuesday, September 20, 2005.

To read the Proclamation, click here /news/releases/2005/09/20050904-2.html.

Diane, from Monee, IL writes:
Ms. Sayle: I am a Registered Nurse in the suburbs of Chicago. On Friday I went to and volunteered my services in New Orleans. I would even pay my own way. I have yet to hear anything. I also encouraged several other nurses to register and we would have traveled together to assist in relief efforts. What happened? -Diane

Desiree Sayle
Diane, thanks for you willingness to help and for rallying your co-workers.

The Office of The Surgeon General and the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness are in the process of mobilizing and identifying healthcare professionals and relief personnel. If you are a healthcare professional or relief personnel with medical or health-related expertise, visit for more information.

There has been a tremendous response in the medical community. Unfortunately, there has also been a lot of talk today about health professionals who want to help and have signed up on the site, but have not yet been contacted for activation. You should all know that there have been over 100,000 hits on the website, almost 20,000 online applications submitted, and over 12,000 calls to the hotline (866-KATMEDI). As I'm sure you can imagine, it takes a bit of time to process these individuals. I know that the credentialing and human resources staff have been working around the clock to process these applications. I understand that many people are frustrated because they want to help immediately. I urge people to pace themselves and to be patient. This is going to be a long-term effort.

Stephanie, from Jericho, NY 11753 writes:
Dear Ms. Sayle, My name is Stephanie. I am 10 years old and I live in Jericho,NY. I fell very sad for the victums of Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to do something to try to help them. Over the Labor Day weekend I made about 15 string bracelets that I wanted to sell. I call these string braclets "BRACLETS OF HOPE". The donations that I get from selling these bracelets will be sent to the American Red Cross. My dad brought these braclets to work. He told me that any donations that we receive will be matched by his company. Everyone in his office loved the braclets and I am making more of them. Do you think I can send a BRACLET OF HOPE to President George W. Bush? If so, what address should I can use? I was thinking of usig red, white and blue strings for this bracelet. Thank You, Stephanie

Desiree Sayle
Stephanie, your email touched me the most. You are the future of compassion in America and your willingness to help those affected by the hurricane is a wonderful gesture and symbol of the American Spirit. I know that President Bush would appreciate your thoughtfulness in wanting to send him one of your very special bracelets. Send it to USA Freedom Corps at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20502. Keep up the great work and I challenge you to look for other opportunities to help others. We have a wonderful web-site for kids just like you called USA Freedom Corps Kids. The site has fun volunteer ideas for elementary and middle school kids as well as craft ideas, games, trivia and a special place for parents and teachers to encourage other kids to volunteer. Keep up the great work!

Glenn, from Cape Coral, FL writes:
If were financially able to take in a child displaced from the Hurricane, where would we find information on how to do this?


Glenn and Stacey

Desiree Sayle
Right now, our hope is that many children are separated from their parents, not necessarily orphans.

For those children that are indeed orphans, the first step is to try to place them with relatives. If unable to locate relatives, children must be placed in foster care until they can be reunited with kin or be placed with a permanent adoptive home.

In the coming weeks, we’ll have a better sense of the situation.

Jerry, from Newark, DE writes:
I am a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Delaware. We have decided to host a function with the Red Cross in to raise money on Sunday, September 25 for the Hurricane Katrina victims. If there is anyone that can help us in publicity for this event or that can assist us in this function? We want to raise a lot of money for the victims, but are asking for assistance in making the event the best it can be. Please call anytime, my name is Jerry. I am a student at the University of Delaware. If not, can you provide me with any contacts that would be interested in assisting us to run this event successfully? Thank you

Desiree Sayle
Jerry, our college and university campuses are one of the best places to find organized and active volunteers. I’m glad to hear about your fraternity’s efforts to raise funds for the American Red Cross. The good news is that you are planning your fundraiser well in advance so you have plenty of time to talk to local businesses about buying advertising space to publicize your event, post flyers, use list-serves and perhaps even approach the school administration about posting it on the school’s website. Also, you may try calling your local television stations or newspaper and to help announce the event for you – this is where those journalism classes come in handy. I wish you the best of luck and hope your event is a big success.

Scott, from Ohio writes:
I want to help out as best as we(my family and I can ) we are not well to do by no means to afford anything would be to afford my time to help out in the unfortunate events would be what I could do... I feel there pain but we as Americans have struggled many times through history and always overcome the adverse. I am a nursing student and former Corpsman of the Military, I would get back in a heart beat if I would go down south to help our citizens or go over sea's to relieve a soldier that has family in the affected area. We have donated some baby cereal, but I feel helpless as if to do more. Any suggestions will be tkaen very serious. -Scott

Desiree Sayle
Scott, your willingness to help is admirable – I encourage you to visit our website and find the opportunity that fits you best. We anticipate the need for help will be long-term. Continue to visit our website as it is updated during the response, relief, recovery and reconstruction stages of the disaster.

Roy, from Kingsville, TX writes:
I am a mortician and feel my country needs me especially now after the massive destruction by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. I am proud of my President and only ask that the White House contact me if I can be of help. -Roy, funeral director in Kingsville, Texas.

Desiree Sayle
Thank you, at this time you should visit and register under the medical professional sections.

Charles, from Utah writes:
Has the President issued a memorandum on administrative leave for federal employees who assist with the Red Cross or other recognized organizations in the Katrina hurricane relief? Is there a policy in place to grant administrative leave for this disaster?

Desiree Sayle
The President issued a memorandum regarding administrative leave for federal employees on September 1, 2005. To read the memorandum, click here /news/releases/2005/09/20050901-7.html.

In addition, each agency has established its own policy concerning allowing employees to participate in volunteer activities. Employees must check with their human resources offices on their agency's policies. In addition, OPM has issued guidance on Federal employees participating in volunteer activities at

Desiree Sayle

Thank you so much for your questions, I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to get to all of them. I encourage you to visit our website regularly as we update volunteer information. In the coming weeks, months, and years, there will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer and engage in ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast region. Thank you for your interest in serving. As the President has said, "the tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America."

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