BILOXI, Miss. -- With a charming smile and an upbeat attitude, Tammy Martin reflects the resilience of her Gulf Coast neighbors. The Gulfport native spent 10 years in California and returned to her home one month before Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything she knew.
She and her three children lived with four other family members in her parents' home until she received a travel trailer from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) before Thanksgiving.
"I slept in a recliner in a moldy home with seven other people until we got the trailer. I remember thinking, 'It's Thanksgiving - how am I going to cook a turkey in that tiny oven?' I wouldn't even be able to fit a Cornish hen in there,'"said Martin with a laugh. "My daughter has allergies and the mold wasn't helping. But once we got the travel trailer, she got better. And it was nice to have a bed."
After working a few odd jobs, Martin was hired to work on the Carnival cruise ship Holiday , which provided temporary shelter for thousands of Katrina survivors.
"I remember looking at the faces eating breakfast on the ship. It was this beautiful environment but their faces showed they didn't want to be there, they wanted to be home,"said Martin.
While there were difficult moments, Martin emphasizes the cruise ship experience wasn't all bad. Some ship residents received their General Equivalency Diplomas and tutoring from AmeriCorps volunteers enabled many children on the ship to become A-students.
When one of Martin's supervisors asked her to be a FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL), in January 2006, Martin jumped at the opportunity. She had volunteered in California with various churches and schools, tutoring students and organizing crafts activities for children in preschool to third grade. She also helped with her daughters' Girl Scout troops and participated in beach clean-up drives with schools in Gulfport.
Martin was initially assigned to two counties and in February 2006, she became the first VAL to establish a long term recovery committee in Stone County.
"We feed the committees resources on grant information, training information, and explain the sequence of delivery for FEMA Individual Assistance. We help them understand 'benefit of collaboration.'"said Martin. "Somebody called us the 'Ask Jeeves' of FEMA. We have to know a little bit about all programs. It's a lot of educating ourselves and in turn educating committee members."
By collaborating, long term recovery committees can assist more applicants with unmet needs. The FEMA VALs refer applicants to committee case managers and ensure benefits are not duplicated by FEMA or other resources. Appearing on a radio show in Hancock County , Martin made an appeal for skilled volunteers. "Skilled people can give two hours on a Saturday to train unskilled people. You don't have to give up a whole weekend; you can just give a couple of hours."
Martin served as the FEMA liaison for the Tri-State warehouse. The warehouse received and stored many donated supplies recovery committees used to accomplish their mission of helping people rebuild. In her personal time, she volunteered and helped build the Kaboom! playground in Ocean Springs. She currently works with three long term recovery committees covering 10 counties across the state and is the liaison to Katrina Aid Today.
"Tammy Martin has been a wonderful resource for the Hancock County Long Term Recovery Committee,"said Mary Tell, Director of Community Building for United Way of South Mississippi and vice-chairperson of the Hancock committee Martin assists."She has provided support, resources, and training. She has been an excellent liaison between our organization, FEMA, and other long term recovery committees. Our job would be very difficult...