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A Methodist hurricane-recovery ministry that funneled nearly 68,000 hammer wielding volunteers into metro New Orleans until it essentially ran out of money has reinvented itself—by asking volunteers to pitch in $225 to spend a week repairing houses.

And the volunteers are still coming.

Some were in Covington, La., recently, putting up drywall for Adelita Solarzano, an artist whose 100-year-old cottage is still barely livable nearly six years after it was hit by nine trees felled by Hurricane Katrina.

In years past, volunteers' donations to Solarzano or thousands like her would have meant giving up a week of vacation and paying their own transportation to the New Orleans area.

Once here, they would set to work with tools and construction materials provided by some relief organization.

Some major relief organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, Operation Helping Hands and the St. Bernard Project, still mostly follow that model, or ask workers to contribute only nominally toward their upkeep.

But at the turn of the year, the Rev. Darryl Tate said the Louisiana Methodists' enormous disaster-recovery effort found itself near the bottom of its treasury, having spent $34 million in grants and donations from the national denomination.

The state Methodist Conference was reluctant to tap into federal housing dollars, he said, wary of the red tape, spending restrictions and back-office accounting it would entail.

So the conference essentially shut down its rebuilding ministry.

  But on April 1, it replaced it with a new nonprofit organization called the Epworth Project that would seek its own financing, including some from the very volunteers already donating free time and labor.

The new model takes advantage of a truism many ...

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June 2011

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