UMCOR assumes major role in Katrina relief, recovery
Aug. 29, 2006
| A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
from Christ Church United Methodist in New York repair a roof damaged
by winds from Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Miss.
By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) — Generous responses by United Methodists to Hurricane
Katrina enabled the United Methodist Committee on Relief to assume its largest
role ever in a domestic disaster.
UMCOR raised $64.5 million for hurricane relief,
causing Newsweek magazine to rank the agency sixth in a survey of “Big
Names in Katrina Relief.”
In addition to the amount donated for Katrina relief, United Methodist volunteers
put thousands of hours into recovery efforts and donated $7.6 million in relief
UMCOR now heads a consortium with nine other organizations,
Aid Today,” which received a $66 million grant through the Federal Emergency
Management Association and Department of Homeland Security. The grant consists
of international donations that were received after the hurricane.
From the start, UMCOR disaster response consultants provided training and
assistance to help conference leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi develop
long-term recovery programs. UMCOR also established regional recovery centers.
| A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
Bymul (front) works with other members of her team from Christ Church
United Methodist in New York to remove a handrail prior to tearing out
the walls in a Biloxi, Miss., home.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive secretary for U.S. disaster response,
spent 106 of 153 days in the field from Sept. 1, 2005, to Jan. 31, 2006. In
addition, six UMCOR consultants spent a combined total of 375 days in the field.
Twelve disaster volunteer mentors worked in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
“It’s just important to be present in those conferences,” said
Hazelwood, who coordinated Katrina relief work with FEMA staff and other faith
groups as well as United Methodists.
While other hurricanes have caused significant damage, the combination of
Katrina and Rita left the Gulf Coast in shambles from Mobile, Ala., to Beaumont,
Texas. “In terms of geography and the number of people affected, we
haven’t had anything like that,” Hazelwood said.
Long-term recovery just beginning
Despite all the work that has occurred since the
hurricane struck, the long-term recovery is just beginning, he added. “Programs
are just now what I would call stabilized.”
But he believes the relief process, while lengthy,
is on target. “I
hope that we can keep the attention of our church and volunteers on this for
a good while,” he said, noting that the Gulf Coast conferences already
have experienced a drop-off in volunteers. “The need for volunteers is
going to be great for a number of years.”
| A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
Jake McGlothin directs the Westbank Station of the Louisiana United Methodist Storm Recovery Center.
The Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR chief executive, said the request for the agency
to manage Katrina Aid Today stems from its long-time relationship with FEMA
and experience gained from its large, church-funded case management program
assisting families and individuals affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
Partners in Katrina Aid Today are Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army,
Lutheran Disaster Response, Episcopal Relief and Development, Volunteers of
America, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Boat People SOS, National Disability
Rights Network and Odyssey House of Louisiana.
The organization now operates from 131 offices in 32 states, with about 2,200
case managers, both paid and volunteer staff; 21,000 families have received
Warren Harrity, who opened UMCOR operations in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003,
is executive director of Katrina Aid Today. He pointed out that case management
of this scope and scale had never been in place before Katrina.
“Getting this huge system up and running has been a tremendous effort,” he
told United Methodist News Service. The biggest task was to bring nine very
different agencies under one umbrella “to work in a coordinated, collaborative
| A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Mark Prince of Toms Brook (Va.) United Methodist Church makes repairs at the home of Barry Smith in Clermont Harbor, Miss.
A two-day training module used UMCOR principles and standards and utilized
the Coordinated Assistance Network, a Web-based data base that allows agencies
to access case files. One hundred case managers came to the first training
last Jan. 5; since then, more than 20 other training sessions have occurred,
according to Harrity. Training also has been taken to the locations of 1,200
In each state, the Katrina Aid Today agencies
meet weekly or biweekly “to
discuss issues pertaining to the storm-affected population,” he said.
Even nationally, the coordination is seamless enough to allow a Katrina evacuee
to receive services from Catholic Charities in Spokane, Wash., and then move
back to Louisiana and continue to receive assistance through Lutheran Social
Services of the South.
“One of the great achievements of this program has been the coordination
and collaboration across agency lines,” Harrity added.
The story of Mr. H
An example of a Katrina Aid Today success story
is “Mr. H,” who
relocated to Colorado after his rental apartment in New Orleans was destroyed.
Because he had no income or benefits, the Volunteers of America in Colorado
provided housing at an apartment complex and helped him obtain identification
and sign up for food stamps and the Colorado Indigent Care Program.
The apartment complex manager convinced her church
to donate all the furniture needed for Mr. H’s apartment. A Volunteers
of America Colorado Katrina Services case manager helped him verify his pre-disaster
address to get rental
assistance from FEMA and assisted with other local services.
She also discovered that he had numerous disabilities and helped him reactivate
the SSI benefits he had been receiving in Louisiana, along with Medicaid benefits.
By applying for personal property funds from FEMA, he received a check for
Despite a slower-than-anticipated start in the
first quarter, Katrina Aid Today “is really a first of its kind,” according to Harrity. Efforts
are “done in a way that is a credit to all the agencies that have participated
in the program so far,” he said.
At this point, the organization is funded by FEMA
through October 2007. But Harrity believes recovery could take six to 10
Katrina Aid Today
convened an executive-level meeting with all partners in early August in New
Orleans “and discussed how we might collectively seek to appeal for more
funds elsewhere as time moves on.”
Harrity said he is encouraged by the fact that
current congressional legislation to amend the Stafford Act, which deals
disaster relief, includes
case management funding for the first time. He considers inclusion in such
legislation to be “a very important outcome of this program.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.