I first got to know Church World Service during the severe storms and floods last April and May that were so widespread that 49 Illinois counties received federal disaster declarations. I had just taken on my new responsibility for partner relations with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.
CWS support for flood survivors started right away in the form of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets. The buckets arrived at the perfect time and we got them right out to flooded households. Our clients really, really appreciated them.
So did our volunteers. The buckets are so visual, and our volunteers asked, “Who’s behind these?” The buckets helped spur the interest of our volunteers in our partner relationships, including the long-time partnership between CWS and the American Red Cross nationally and in communities across the United States.
Early on, the CWS U.S. disaster response webinars and on-site “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops helped us lay the groundwork for long-term recovery following the floods.
I got a lot of my first education through the CWS webinars. A lot of people sent me a lot of reading material about long-term recovery, but I didn’t have time to sit and read hundreds of pages during those first weeks responding to the flood disaster. But I could find an hour here and there to watch an archived webinar on the CWS website.
I’ve listened to the same CWS webinars over and over again and learned something new each time. The webinars also have been great for a lot of members of our local COADs – Community Organizations Active in Disaster.
Then in October there were three day-long CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops, two in my region and one farther south, in Peoria. I can’t say enough good about them. CWS brought into our area really strong education, with presenters from CWS, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, World Renew, FEMA and the American Red Cross, which also provided funding. It was so valuable to have the chance to talk with staff from these agencies, and really helpful in moving us forward in our long-term recovery.
The workshops really helped our local nongovernmental partners understand the disaster recovery process. For example, we have an organization that provides counseling services. They had no direct disaster experience. The workshop increased the staff’s confidence working with people recovering from flooding.
Floods are so difficult. They are not very visual. A lot of the damage is inside the house. It affects pockets here and there. One part of the city may be flooded and another part completely unaffected. A lot of people inside and outside our communities didn’t know we were experiencing such a large disaster.
The workshops brought us media attention for the recovery, letting members of the community know there were these needs in their area and introducing them to what long-term recovery involves.
Susanne Gilmore is the CWS Emergency Response Specialist who relates to Illinois, and she has been wonderful. She’s a great organizer, knows how to put on a really sharp training, keeps the schedule moving and makes sure it’s relevant for the group. And she’s a mentor to me. She is available whenever little questions arise and provides a lot of honest and wise support plus connection to other partners.
Because of a lot of CWS assistance we’ve been able to constantly move forward in recovery. CWS is dedicated to our needs even now after public attention has gone elsewhere. I know as we move forward that if we need CWS they are still there.
Sara Echols is Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Support Manager, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.