Voluntary Agencies Lead Long-Term Disaster Recovery

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Release date: 
August 11, 2010
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BEAVER, W. Va. -- While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of West Virginia are providing a restart for many homes in the counties hardest hit by June storms, voluntary community service and faith-based organizations are tackling the longer term needs of many households.

“Disaster does more than knock the footing out from under a house,” said Reverend Joan Stewart, executive director of West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps (WVMAW). “It can also knock the feet out from under the family that lived there.” Voluntary agencies supplement the efforts of FEMA to keep residents warm, safe and dry as well as provide hope.

Today, federal and state disaster assistance programs are at work in Lewis, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties to help make storm-damaged homes safe and livable. These programs are not always enough to return a home to its pre-disaster condition and many households are not covered by insurance.

Stewart said that a wide range of community support groups are providing heavy lifting as well as emotional support to those who need extra help. Among the voluntary agencies are the American Baptist and Southern Baptist Churches, Appalachian Service Project, Catholic Charities, Community Lutheran Partners, Group Work Camps, Methodist Disaster Recovery and Volunteers in Mission, Southern Appalachian Labor School and some non denominational communities. WVMAW is supported in part by the Presbyterian Church.

 “Many people who have been in a disaster do not have insurance or other means of recovery,” said Stewart. “Volunteer organizations seek to bridge the gap between those who have resources and those who have no way to find help.”

Often households that need help beyond the scope of government aid programs have a member with a disability or special need.

“This is the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Don Keldsen, Federal Coordinating Officer with FEMA in West Virginia. “Today the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local emergency managers and community service organizations are focused on the special needs of all households as we prepare for a disaster, respond to a disaster and strengthen homes and businesses against future damage.”

FEMA’s Keldsen said disaster recovery workers don’t serve populations – they serve people. Disaster assistance staff – whether in a Disaster Recovery Center, on foot, or on the phone – are sensitive to those with special needs. Disaster assistance workers who spot a service gap provide a referral, often to a voluntary agency.

Nearly 200 volunteers from age 14 to 87 have been provided by many agencies to help dozens of families clear the debris from their flooded homes, sanitize them and replace drywall and siding.  They are also repairing roofs upturned by storm winds and replacing damaged porches with stronger ones built to withstand the next storm.

In voluntary service the players are as varied as their prayers. Many small churches are opening their doors to house volunteers, providing accommodations with showers and kitchens, said Stewart. For example a small congregation in Hampden has a heart as big as its name – Freedom Full Gospel Assembly House of Prayer. Their hospitality has bridged relationships with the community and volunteers from as far away as Colorado. 

Stewart’s WVMAW is no small player either. Established in 2002 as the Presbytery of West Virginia’s response to the 2001-2002 floods in Southern West Virginia, the agency now operates one week work camps from March through October and they provide other services all year round. 

“Long Term Recovery means we will be here as long as it takes,” said Stewart, describing all the voluntary organizations helping w...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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