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FEMA Partners with Students from Wayne State University School of Social Work to Help Flood Survivors

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As part of a new partnership between Region 5’s Individual Assistance Program and Wayne State University School of Social Work, ten volunteer students assisted more than 600 Detroit survivors affected by last June’s severe storms, flooding and tornadoes.

The program debuted in August after a major disaster declaration was signed by President Joe Biden for certain counties in Michigan.

Voluntary Agency Liaison Task Force Leader Anne S. Robertson wanted to help with the recovery process. Robertson knew that Wayne State University School of Social Work was responsive to community needs, so she contacted the dean about a possible collaboration with the Individual Assistance Program. Officials at the school of social work then combined efforts to make the program possible.

After receiving extensive agency training, students involved in the program called survivors and aided them in their appeals to FEMA for assistance. They also made assessments and referrals to FEMA, including for rental assistance and appliance replacement.

“By doing this FEMA work, our social work students are actively illustrating our social work values in action,” said Student Alliance and FEMA Project Collaboration Coordinator Andre S. Iadipaolo.

Another voluntary agency liaison, Sarah E. Jensen, says that the students—some of whom reside in the metro Detroit area—will now play important roles in the long term-recovery process.

“It quickly became one more important tool in our toolbox during the response to and recovery from the floods,” said Jenson.

One student, Monet Eason says she’s honored to be part of the FEMA project.

“The social work profession has long been associated with disaster relief, owing to the profession’s roots in wartime aid and its concern with people’s physical environments,” said Eason. “This is the perfect opportunity for me to put my social work knowledge and passion into community action.”

Other students participating in the project include Rosie Abed, Nora Al-Khafaji, Tiffany Ammons, Clarisa Ceasar, Lori Corbin, Doris DeMarco, Kristen Holinski, Asia Matthews and Sara Van Blerk.

Perhaps the biggest success has been reaching residents within the City of Detroit in ZIP codes identified by FEMA as the “most impacted” by the event, according to Iadipaolo.

The WSU Social Work Student Alliance was key. It is a student-engagement vehicle designed to, among other things, assist with student learning. The alliance oversees various student organizations, including The Association of Black Social Workers, the Coalition of Community Social Workers, the Social Work Queer Alliance, and more.

“The other major outcome from this collaboration is the roadmap it has created for future social work students to participate in local disaster relief,” said FEMA project coordinator Iadipaolo.

“This initiative is most accurately described as a pilot for Wayne State’s social work program and other social work programs to reference when creating new internships at FEMA or in other disaster-relief agencies. We have been told several times by FEMA that this has never been done before—and in a way, the students’ work here is nothing short of innovative.”

For more information on how Individual Assistance can help communities recover after a disaster, visit the webpage.   

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Last updated November 22, 2021