UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2006 / 20060303

UMCOR Helps Louisiana Communities Respond to Needs of Displaced

by Betty Backstrom

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS), March 03, 2006 - Funding through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is helping meet the needs of schoolchildren displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Of the more than 600,000 people who evacuated New Orleans when Katrina struck Aug. 29, about half settled either permanently or temporarily in other Louisiana communities. UMCOR has offered grant funding to the seven districts of the United Methodist Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference for programs that support humanitarian aid to the thousands of displaced people. Each grant could include requests for up to $50,000

"The Baton Rouge District has developed a program focusing on the needs of young children," said the Rev. Jan Holloway, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge and chairperson of the Baton Rouge District Task Force on Hurricane Response.

"Due to Katrina, many children and youth have lost their homes and everything in them; their schools have been destroyed; and their friends have been dispersed," Holloway said. "These children need security, stability, places to learn and play, and counseling programs so that they can rebuild their lives."

The Baton Rouge District received a full $50,000 grant for a program targeting two schools - Mayfair Elementary and Scotlandville Middle - that were opened specifically for 480 children displaced by Katrina. Many of the 43 teachers at the two schools were also displaced by the hurricane.

"It was a joy to deliver on behalf of UMCOR and the churches of the Baton Rouge district a check to Mayfair Elementary for the purchase of science education supplies. I can still remember the first time I looked through a microscope and the wonder I felt; it gave me an appreciation for God's creative power that I did not have before," Holloway said.

Most of the children were students in New Orleans public schools that, by most measures of accountability, were failing at the task of providing an adequate education. "With hard work on everyone's part, these young people will have expanded educational opportunities provided through their new schools," she added.

Additional Needs

United Methodists throughout the city have also responded with gifts of uniforms, school books, library books, supplies and teacher resources. First Church in Baton Rouge provided supplies and uniforms received from nearly 50 United Methodist congregations throughout the connection.

"A local United Methodist businessman got his company to sponsor an art contest at Mayfair Elementary, using the winner's entry on his firm's Christmas card. A retired teacher donated all of her Scholastic Books points from nearly 30 years of teaching, resulting in the provision of over 3,000 books for the schools," said the Rev. Larry Miller, Baton Rouge District superintendent.

The second element of the UMCOR grant is the purchase of needed kitchen equipment for United Methodist HOPE Ministries in Baton Rouge.

"This mission center, which provides food to those in need, has been serving about 1,100 families per month since Hurricane Katrina hit. This is an increase of close to 275 families per month," Holloway said.

Be the Hope

Helping children who are living in an area trailer village is the third focus of the grant program. The village is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The majority of the funding will help establish a computer lab for young students residing in the Groom Road trailer village," Holloway said. "Over 500 children and youth are living at the site, with essentially no access to computers or an environment conducive to study. With matching funds from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, we hope to have a state-of-the-art program that will help these at-risk children stay ahead educationally.

"The focus on children and youth and the ministries we are implementing underscores the mission of UMCOR and the United Methodist Church as we encourage churches to 'Be the Hope,'" she said. "These educational and nutritional efforts will help children holistically for their entire lives."

Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of The United Methodist Church's Louisiana Annual Conference.