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Disaster case managers walk with survivors


2:00 P.M. ET Sept. 23, 2011 | MINOT, N.D. (UMNS)

Diana Shackelford, a test manager for Job Corps in Minot, N.D., volunteers as a case manager for the Resource Agency Flood Team. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
Diana Shackelford, a test manager for Job Corps in Minot, N.D., volunteers as a case manager for the Resource Agency Flood Team. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
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Diana Shackelford earns a living as a test manager/administrator for Job Corps in Minot, N.D. She embraces giving as a case manager for RAFT, short for Resource Agency Flood Team.

Shackelford has plenty to do.

She is one of 33 case managers trained by the United Methodist Committee on Relief assisting people recovering from massive spring and summer floods in North Dakota’s Souris Valley. In Minot, a city of 40,000, the floods destroyed more than 4,000 homes. In nearby Burlington, more than a third of the town was underwater. The catastrophe left 8,000 to 9,000 people homeless.

“When the water was there,” Shackelford remembered, “it looked so peaceful. Now it’s the ugliest mess I’ve seen in my life.”

She noted that her first career — as a high school biology and chemistry teacher — and her current job experience prepared her well for disaster case management.

“At Job Corps,” she said, “we do a lot of case management with students transitioning from our program to the world.”

Her duties include teaching GED classes, preparing students for their driving permits and working with immigration issues. “With the gamut of stuff I do here,” she said, “it’s almost like being a detective.”

An ‘overwhelming’ job

Homeowner Amy Morse (left) discusses flood recovery options with case manager Joyce Solberg inside her home in Minot, N.D.
Homeowner Amy Morse (left) discusses flood recovery options with case manager Joyce Solberg inside her home in Minot, N.D. View in Photo Gallery

So what does Shackelford the disaster case manager do?

Over several meetings with a homeowner or renter recovering from the flood, she develops a recovery plan. She figures out which resources will be of greatest importance to her client. This might include information about finances, rebates and potential benefits from filing for casualty losses with the Internal Revenue Service. She also works closely with a volunteer home-appraisal team to assess the cost of rebuilding the essential living space with volunteer labor.

Then Shackelford recommends counseling and pastoral care options for those still experiencing trauma, and listens, encourages and helps the survivor understand the “new normal.”

Finally, when she has provided as many resources as possible and a recovery plan is in place, Shackelford works with a supervisor to present remaining needs to a long-term recovery committee. This is a committee of “last resorts.” The flood survivor may receive money, which he or she often stretches two to four times its value through volunteer labor and donated building supplies.

“It’s a very long commitment,” the Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne said. “We’re talking six months, a year, two years. You have to be there. And you cannot get paid unless you’re in a federal program.” Ball-Kilbourne is pastor of Minot’s Faith United Methodist Church and an UMCOR case-management trainer.

“We attempt to keep the applicant in the driver’s seat in determining a recovery plan,” Ball-Kilbourne added, “but helping him or her reach decisions in a reasonable length of time and with due consideration of what is within the applicant’s financial means. It takes creativity on behalf of the case manager. Prayer also helps!”

“Overwhelming” is how Shackelford describes her case-management role. She has three cases. Job Corps donates her time to work in disaster case management.

“A ton of Job Corps staff — about 20 to 25 people — were affected by the flood,” Shackelford said. She eagerly shares her knowledge and resources with her colleagues.

‘Just point them in the right direction’

A resident of the hard-hit town of Burlington, N.D., Shackelford was more fortunate than many neighbors.

“We just got a little bit of water in the basement,” she said. “We were out of our home for a month, so we stayed in my husband’s office.

“Burlington will be a FEMA neighborhood,” she added, meaning many of the residents’ temporary homes will be FEMA trailers.

Shackelford said the financial aspects, especially the forms the flood survivors must complete, are “mind-boggling.”

“Every week, I come out of the case-management meeting and start to second-guess whether this is what I should be doing.”

However, Ball-Kilbourne assures her. “You just need to relate to these people and walk with them.”

Shackelford understands. “If I can just point them in the right direction, I’m doing something.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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