February 10, 2014

U.S. Groups Make Diverse Uses of CWS Disaster Recovery Grants

Doublewide modular home
Flash flooding in June 2013 filled Bill Recker and Carma Agan's house and shifted it off its foundations, ruining the house and most of its contents. Photo: Courtesy Delaware County Disaster Recovery Committee

Local long-term recovery groups bring together faith-based and other community partners to identify disaster survivors most in need of assistance and to help them pull together public and private resources to put their homes and lives back together after great loss.

Church World Service helps with undesignated grants.  In 2013, CWS approved grants totaling $123,300 for 25 long-term recovery groups from Arizona to New Jersey responding to tornados, floods, hurricanes and wildfires.

Reports from those groups show that they are using the CWS grants in diverse ways, including compensation for staff and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, laptops, cell phones, office supplies, mileage reimbursement for disaster case managers, and purchase of essential household appliances for clients.  Here are some examples:

ARIZONA:  The average age of Yarnell, Arizona’s 1,200 residents is 64 and the average annual income less than $16,000.  Last summer’s Yarnell Hill wildfire forced the evacuation of the entire town for a week.  Some 122 homes were burned.  Between 150 and 200 people remain in need of recovery assistance, said Frances Lechner, communications director for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group.

With its $5,000 from CWS, the group is securing an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for a year.  That person’s assignment: to establish an information and referral service to fill a serious communications gap that was revealed during recovery efforts – how to get information out to Yarnell’s many residents who do not use the internet. 

“With a senior population that is largely low-income, the preferred method of communication is telephone or stopping by in person,” Lechner said.  “An information and referral service will provide the appropriate ‘people’ connection using all appropriate technologies.”

LOUISIANA:  The St. John the Baptist Parish, La., Long-Term Recovery Group is helping hundreds of underinsured homeowners following Hurricane Isaac.  It is using its $5,000 CWS grant for administrative costs such as office utilities, supplies and essential personnel at its Volunteer Reception Center in LaPlace.

“This grant enables us to provide rebuild and recovery assistance throughout our community,” reported Althea Bordelon.  “The Volunteer Reception Center is essential to this process because it is responsible for organizing and coordinating the rebuild and recovery projects. Your support of the administrative staff strengthens our efforts.”

NEW JERSEY:  Long-term recovery groups across New Jersey are helping Superstorm Sandy survivors.  CWS has provided $5,000 grants to several of them, including Bergen and Cumberland counties.

The CWS grant helped the Bergen County VOAD Long-Term Recovery Committee to “launch a real long-term recovery project,” said Janet Sharma, Executive Director, Volunteer Center of Bergen County, Hackensack, N.J.  “Funds were used to set up a facility, get donated computers ready, and hire our project manager.”

“Hurricane Sandy generated significant outpourings of funds,” Sharma added, “but it was those CWS funds, given before just about anyone else, that helped us get our feet on the ground.”

The Cumberland County Long-Term Recovery Group has used its CWS grant “primarily to reimburse mileage accrued by our family advocates and case managers who travel to visit families affected by Sandy and compile the required casework,” said Phil Tomlinson, the group’s project manager. 

He explained that “many of the families are unable to provide their own transportation to come to our office to complete the paperwork. In most cases, compiling these extensive files requires many visits to a family by the case manager.”

”The CWS grant also will be used to purchase laptop computers and cell phones for two new case managers,” Tomlinson said, commenting on these items’ importance for effective case management. 

IOWA:   When Bill Recker and Carma Agan lost their Buck Creek, Iowa, home to flash flooding in June 2013, they would have faced a lonely struggle to recover if it weren’t for the Delaware County Disaster Recovery Committee.  CWS approved $5,000 for the committee, which used it to purchase essential household appliances for this and another flood-affected household.

SOUTH DAKOTA: In October 2013, an unprecedented week-long ice storm and blizzard across western South Dakota resulted in widespread property damage and the uninsured loss of more than 43,000 head of livestock.  Many areas were without electricity for ten days or longer.  The South Dakota VOAD Committee immediately began to coordinate volunteer clean-up efforts and assist households with unmet needs. 

A CWS grant of $3,300 is helping people who have uninsured damage to their homes that can’t be fixed through volunteer help, reported Kathy Bangasser of Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls, S.D.  This grant was first awarded following a Spring 2013 weather disaster in eastern South Dakota.  But, because those needs have now been fully met with local resources, CWS has agreed to direct its grant toward the unmet needs in western South Dakota towns.

MONTANA: Musselshell County, Mont., suffered floods in May 2011 and the Delphia wildfire in August 2012.  The disasters especially affected undocumented residents, rural and agricultural populations and low-income people.  The fire claimed 72 homes in the town of Roundup.  “Many were trailers that were uninsurable,” reported Tammy Zemliska, Volunteer Coordinator for the Musselshell County Recovery Team. 

A $5,000 CWS grant has helped the team “help 20 families in various ways, from clean-up to cutting and removing burned trees,” Zemliska said.  “One of the group's major accomplishments was that it was able to help bring in six trailer homes to house survivors.  These trailer homes were either donated or bought at reduced prices by the MCRT.”