Many say their dad was their role model growing up, so it’s no surprise I feel that way about mine. In many ways, his inspiration led me to the place I am now—working for FEMA. We are an agency that, as its core value, helps people when they need it most—after a disaster. I have always been proud of how we work so closely with faith-based groups to coordinate assistance.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew’s landfall in south Florida, I asked Dad to share, in his own words, what it meant to him to be one of the many volunteers who came to help the survivors of what was then the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
- Jody Dodd Cottrill, FEMA Region IV External Affairs
My story’s not unlike those of many who have been part of disaster work teams. As I think back, twenty years after my experience with Hurricane Andrew, I see the real difference that churches and other faith-based organizations make on people’s recovery, as well as the impact the experience had on my own life.
In August 1992, we watched the televised destruction of south Florida as Hurricane Andrew hit with unbelievable force. Soon, a call went out to our church members in West Virginia for volunteers to help rebuild homes. Two United Methodist pastors, Sue and Joe Jarrett, recruited a dozen people for one team. I was moved to help the people who had lost so much, so I volunteered—at age 64. My first disaster work team, headed for Homestead, Fla.
We started our trip in a van and three cars. I loaded three pastors into my sedan while the Jarrett’s van carried several teenagers. After lunch near the Virginia border, one of the pastors offered to drive for a while. We didn’t realize he had left the emergency brake on! The brakes went out requiring me to leave my car behind for repairs. We re-packed the remaining cars and van and set out again. The ride from Virginia to Miami was, to say the least, “chummy” and some of us older folks got a bit “testy” from the teenagers’ singing the same church camp song over and over.
Things quieted down and all disgruntlement evaporated as we began to see mile after mile of debris piled into mountains of waste along the roads. It was both shocking and heart wrenching.
The work we did that week in the hot Florida sun was daunting, but each of us resolved to do our best to make a difference. During the day we hammered and painted. In the evenings we met with the people who would live in the homes we were building. We soon learned it was just as important—healing—for them to tell us their stories as it was to put a roof over their heads.
Rev. Sue and I recently reminisced about our trip. We were still amazed by the people in our group, each with busy lives and burdens of their own, who dedicated a week to helping people they didn’t know nor would likely ever see again. And we were humbled by the overwhelming gratitude of those receiving the gift of our efforts.
My experience led to a deep appreciation and support of all those who do this regularly. I urge anyone who feels moved to help when disaster strikes, to join an organized work team and volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether you volunteer through the Red Cross, through your church, synagogue, or mosque, or through any number of organizations who help when there is a disaster—just volunteer. No matter whether you help someone far away or in your own back yard, you will be blessed as much as those you serve.
- Chet Dodd
When Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in the fall of 1992, Chet Dodd volunteered to help rebuild homes, traveling from W.Va. with his fellow congregation.