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New Orleans

Making choices. Making a difference.

posted January 17, 2019
Early last June on a (very, very) hot day in New Orleans, I sat for lunch with my colleague Kati Hagedorn and our partners at NetWork Volunteers as we started the on-site planning for our fall program. We wanted a local spot, somewhere in the neighborhood where we would bring our volunteers. What we got was something so much more.

We enjoyed lunch and good company at Café Reconcile, a social enterprise in Central City that employs at-risk youth and provides culinary and job training to help them with future employment opportunities. Every meal purchased there helps train the students and directly funds their facility. A delicious meal with a higher purpose.

What was reinforced to us that day is that it’s all about the choices you make when you travel. We all eat, sleep, tour and shop when we visit a new place or send our customers out into the world. And imagine what kind of impact we could make if we chose to buy local or support social enterprises that reinvest their profits into the community.

Our goal for our New Orleans program was to support nonprofits in the city with our valuable efforts—and also to show our volunteers what they can accomplish as an industry by supporting companies like Café Reconcile.

Kati and Jess
Kati Hagedorn (left) and Jessica Ahern Flores of Tourism Cares

The restaurant catered our event-day meals, and a 17-year-old aspiring artist and New Orleans native designed our t-shirts. We gave our “earned” and discarded beads to a local nonprofit with a recycling program staffed by people with special needs. We minimized our use of plastics and donated any leftover food locally.

With our volunteer efforts and direct community investments, we provided $60,000 to New Orleans in one day. And it all started with a simple choice.

We are using what we learned in New Orleans and taking it to Puerto Rico May 8–10. Tourism Cares for Puerto Rico is a three-day program designed to harness the transformative power and the collective strength of our industry through hands-on work projects, knowledge exchanges and exploration of business integration.

In addition to our volunteering efforts that bring considerable people-power to the island, we’ll also be using our industry’s intellectual capital and expertise to advise representatives of the local tourism sector on how they can continue to successfully rebuild and connect to the modern marketplace.

We’ll have an opening afternoon dedicated to education and thought-leadership, networking receptions featuring authentic entertainment and locally sourced food, volunteer projects focused on food security and farming, and visits to social enterprises and small innovative businesses in and around Ponce.

Three days of incredible work, bonding experiences and long-term impact. We hope you’ll join us in what will be a new chapter of programming for Tourism Cares. More information can be found at

Jessica Ahern Flores, Tourism Cares’ director of volunteer programs, is a familiar face at NTA events.

Top photo: A team of Tourism Cares volunteers working in a New Orleans neighborhood