BILOXI, Miss. -- While Hurricane Katrina showed her strength in her destruction, volunteer agencies countered that energy in their numbers and willingness to serve the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the hurricane’s aftermath. Volunteers have been their own magnificent force of nature.
Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VAL) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been working equally hard to help affected families. Staff from FEMA’s Helpline, Applicant Services, or Housing Advisors can refer unmet needs cases to VAL.
Unmet needs are needs that remain after all other forms of assistance such as state, local, or federal assistance or insurance have been exhausted. VAL receives referrals, verifies the information and acts as a facilitator to one of the 19 long term recovery committees operating throughout the state.
“The VAL position within FEMA is invaluable to the recovery work we do at the Southeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross,” said Paige Roberts, Executive Director, Southeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross. “Our two agencies must work as a team in order to best serve our clients, which require a strong relationship built on trust, support and reliability. The maze of long-term recovery is manageable only because the VALs lead the way.”
Long term recovery committees offer help in a variety of ways such as supplying volunteers who can help families repair their homes by gutting out houses, installing floors, or hanging sheetrock. Some recovery committees work with families and provide furniture, washers and dryers, or crisis counseling services, or even financial assistance such as deposits for new apartments. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s (MEMA) Individual Assistance staff also refers applicants to long term recovery committees.
“We know that a lot of Mississippi’s progress in recovery is due to the hard work and dedication of volunteers from around the country,” said Dennis Kizziah, acting director of the FEMA Transitional Recovery Office. “The diligent efforts of the volunteers and our liaisons provided new avenues of assistance for thousands of families.”
Committee members agree to work together cooperatively using their resources, according to their respective missions and guidelines, to help meet identified unmet needs.
"VALs are critical in bringing together the many agencies together to aid in the recovery of South Mississippi,” said Maj. Rob Vincent, Southern Mississippi Area Commander for Salvation Army.
“The Salvation Army's Long Term Recovery has been helped by the networking provided by FEMA's VALs. It has been a great partnership between the Salvation Army and the VALs, and I believe it serves the clients as well."
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Salvation Army, and American Red Cross provide the main financial support to the long term recovery committees and leverage volunteer hours with donated dollars from various sources. These three powerhouses work with countless private-non-profit groups, faith-based organizations and individual volunteers to keep the volunteer machine moving.
VALs have organized Helping Hands Workshops to address various personal recovery issues facing occupants of FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes. The workshop gathers representatives from various groups including the WIN Job Center, Mississippi Regional Housing Authority, Mississippi Home Corporation, Project Recovery and MEMA. Panel participants give brief presentations about their programs, address questions from the audience and some even provide one-on-one assistance to people who have additional questions. The next Helping Hands Workshop will be held April 23 in the cafeteria of Pascagoula High School, 1716 Tucker Street from...