After Hurricane Katrina, religious groups from around the country were instrumental in providing vital aid.

Religious meetings continue to play an important part in the ongoing recovery effort, with many organizations choosing to hold events in New Orleans.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering, a meeting of high-school-age students held every three years, is a good example. The ELCA announced this summer that New Orleans would be the site for the next meeting, in 2009.

With attendance of 36,000, the ELCA event requires infrastructure that the organization says only four or five cities have. New Orleans is one of them. The city previously hosted youth gatherings (in 1976 and 1997) and was in consideration for 2009 prior to Hurricane Katrina (2005).

According to the event's leadership: “After many meetings and discussions with city and convention officials, consulting with congregational leaders, and careful consideration, we faced the question, ‘Why not New Orleans?’ The question that followed was, ‘How can we not go to New Orleans?’”

“While many in the country already may have forgotten or want the nation to forget the tragedy and move on, some of us recognize that a great human tragedy is still unfolding,” says Heather L. Feltman, executive director for Lutheran Disaster Response and director for ELCA Domestic Disaster Response.

The 2009 gathering program will be different from prior gatherings. “Planning teams and staff are working with local congregations and organizations, young people, and the city to pay attention to what makes the city of New Orleans unique, as well the changes it is going through as it continues to recover after Hurricane Katrina. The focus will be on service and justice.”

The 2009 program will involve community experiences and volunteer service. The experiences will be led and supervised by staff and volunteers in addition to the people representing local partner agencies such as Lutheran Disaster Response.

The goals for the volunteer service include offering safe community service and learning experiences through which young people will hear the life stories of local residents, moving deeper into community issues and needs, receiving and sharing the gospel, and serving with compassion and imagination.

Hotels Help Kids in Crisis — International chain Accor, which has 4,000 hotels in 90 countries, has worked with Plan, an international community development organization that focuses on children, since 2003. Started in France and England, the hotel program was set up so that customers and employees could sponsor individual children.

Today, more than 1,100 children are sponsored by Accor hotels, and Accor supports worldwide projects such as working with tsunami survivors in Indonesia, nutrition training in Zambia, building a school in Cambodia, and more.

In Thailand, the Pan Pacific Bangkok started a program 12 years ago that is still going strong. The hotel partnered with UNICEF to train at-risk high school girls in areas such as housekeeping, laundry, engineering, and food and beverage, as well as provide instruction in English and life skills such as computers, service etiquette, and personal finance. Upon completion, the young women are qualified to work in the city's best hotels; the program provides careers for the women and highly skilled workers for the hotels. Nearly two dozen hotels have joined in — in Bangkok and Manila — and the program has been expanded worldwide to help young people in Brazil, Poland, and Ethiopia.