March 5, 2013

A Strengthened Relationship is About Engagement

Sandra Kennedy-Owes
At a recent meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Women's Missionary Society, meeting in Dallas, Texas, CWS Emergency Response Specialist Sandra Kennedy-Owes addressed nearly 1,000 members of the society and provided some training about disaster preparedness. Photo: courtesy of Sandra Kennedy-Owes

By Chris Herlinger
CWS

A burgeoning relationship between CWS and one of its member communions was strengthened even further recently at a forum on domestic disaster response.

At a recent meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Women's Missionary Society, meeting in Dallas, Texas, CWS Emergency Response Specialist Sandra Kennedy-Owes addressed nearly 1,000 members of the society and provided some training about disaster preparedness.

Kennedy-Owes, who is a member of the AME, said her presence at the event is just the latest in a series of collaborations that is bringing the AME closer to CWS.

"It has really been strengthened," Kennedy-Owes said of the relationship, and believes that increased awareness about domestic disasters following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy is a key reason.

In recent years, the 2.5 million-member denomination has increased its work in disaster response by naming disaster coordinators in nearly all of its 20 Episcopal Districts.

Kennedy-Owes' presentation to the mission society, held Feb. 1, focused on ways communities can organize after a disaster and stressed how the faith community can be a key player in disaster response.

Among the subjects addressed -- "how do we engage?" – included a familiar theme: that cash is always preferable to collected donated goods because it allows affected communities more flexibility in how they respond to a disaster.

An AME bishop told Kennedy-Owes that based on personal experience, that was a much-needed point to be made, as donated goods – most glaringly, used clothing – often slow responses down and do little to restore dignity to disaster survivors.

CWS makes community level long-term recovery assistance a priority in its work, as well as providing needed relief items like clean-up buckets after a flood.  In recent years, CWS has used training seminar formats to maximize the sharing of expertise by disaster specialists like Kennedy-Owes. The agency has also provided grants to startup groups that do the long-term recovery work.

Building grassroots recovery infrastructure to help those who are uninsured, under-insured or as yet un-served by other sources is part of CWS's emergency response work, and is a cornerstone of CWS’s global focus on advance preparedness to reduce the risks of disasters.

George F.  Flowers, executive director of the AME's Global Witness and Missions division, said that Kennedy-Owes' presence was warmly and "extremely well accepted."

"She's one of us," he said.

He agreed with Kennedy-Owes that with recent "mega-disasters" such as Katrina and Sandy, AME members are more attuned than ever to the issue of domestic disaster response. "We're more in tune, in touch and ready to respond when it happens next," he said of the AME's domestic disaster work, and believes having CWS as a partner is a key component to that growing role.

"We want it to grow, to take root, to expand," he said of the AME's relationship with CWS. "It's important for us."

Donna J. Derr, who oversees CWS's humanitarian and development work, returned the compliment.

"CWS is always excited when one of our member communions chooses to become more involved in domestic disaster response," she said. "We look forward to the opportunity to work more closely with AME in preparing for and responding to future disasters here in the U.S."