A Year and Counting: UMCOR and Katrina Recovery
by Michelle Scott
NEW YORK, August 29, 2006—"So many have worked so hard this year," says the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's domestic disaster response director, "and yet we know that the long road to recovery is just beginning. Church members and others generously gave more than they ever have before: $64.8 million in cash donations and another $7.6 million in material goods. UMCOR has spent the last 12 months helping annual conferences establish disaster response ministries that will continue for many years to come. Over the last year these ministries have included providing basic relief supplies like food, water, and shelter, in the months immediately following the hurricanes. They expanded to include regionally located storm centers that connect survivors with much-needed information and resources.
These resources include thousands of committed United Methodist volunteers who gave their time and skills to helping survivors recover. They came, and continue to come, by the busload to gut out and repair homes.
But much more happens than removing debris and replacing roofs. Relationships are forged and discouraged homeowners are encouraged. One Louisiana survivor praised the volunteer team that came to help her. She said the day before they arrived she was so depressed she couldn't get out of bed. "I asked Jesus for a miracle," she told them, "and you came!"
The volunteer miracle also presented a challenge to host annual conferences. Normally, volunteers would stay in a church near the disaster zone. The widespread and total destruction caused by Katrina and Rita meant that there simply was nowhere for volunteers to stay. Some stayed in tents set up in parking lots; others in churches that were only partially damaged. Still others had to stay some distance from where they were working. UMCOR is helping Louisiana and Mississippi annual conferences construct facilities to house the volunteers who will be on site during the next few years. Later, these facilities will revert to church and community uses. They will be available in future disasters to house volunteers and relief supplies.
Meeting Real Needs
Beyond the volunteer effort, UMCOR has trained family advocates, or case managers, to help the storms' most vulnerable survivors get on the path to recovery. UMCOR is well known for its success in helping disaster survivors in the long term through case management. In fact, FEMA recognized UMCOR's expertise by asking the organization to lead a consortium of nine case management agencies called Katrina Aid Today. With a $66 million grant Katrina Aid Today members are fielding a corps of UMCOR-trained professional and volunteer case managers. Over the next two years they expect to help 300,000 of Katrina's most vulnerable survivors create individualized recovery plans.
Annual conferences, too, are hiring and training case managers to advocate for families. Case managers develop relationships with survivors and ensure they get the help they need. Forms are filled out, volunteer teams brought in, insurance companies contacted, local organizations are called, and when there are gaps in the resources available to the family, local case managers can use United Methodist funds to help meet specific unmet needs.
UMCOR always works through the annual conference network when responding to any domestic disaster. This allows the people closest to the disaster to be the ones who create and own this ministry of recovery and healing. UMCOR's methodology is the result of many years of experience in long term recovery. It was tested at every level in the unprecedented 2005 storm season.
"Given that this disaster was so big and that no one was prepared for it," says the Rev. Kristin Sachen, Assistant General Secretary, UMCOR, "it is a testimony to this system that today the annual conferences' ministries are at the same place in their recovery as most other annual conferences are after one year in much smaller disasters." Rev. Hazelwood estimates that programs aimed at Katrina and Rita recovery will continue for at least the next 6-8 years.
UMCOR is partnering with seven United Methodist conferences and seven other agencies as they seek to respond to the hurricanes of 2005. Five of these are annual conferences were directly affected by the hurricanes. UMCOR provides them with training, disaster response consultants and financial support. Additionally, UMCOR is supporting the work of two other annual conferences and seven local organizations with programs that reach out to and support displaced hurricane survivors, scattered across the US. When Katrina Aid Today's work is included, a total of 39 organizations, United Methodist and others, benefit from UMCOR's financial support and expertise.
Along with UMCOR's continued work in the Gulf States, the agency has also responded to disasters and emergencies in 21 other annual conferences between April and August 2006 alone. "This has been a year of overcoming unprecedented challenges," said UMCOR director, the Rev. Paul Dirdak, "and United Methodists stepped up to the challenge: giving more financially, materially, and physically than ever before. For that, we give thanks."
How You Can Help
There is still much more to be done. Annual conferences report a drop in volunteers, yet volunteers will be needed in force for years to come. Contact your jurisdictional volunteer coordinator to find out more about scheduling groups or going as an individual. You can also give to help rebuild churches through the Katrina Church Recovery Bishop's Appeal #818001. Learn more about this special appeal here.