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UMCOR grants bolster community centers on Gulf Coast

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The Rev. Paul Dirdak
Oct. 13, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) — Three United Methodist community centers on the Gulf Coast — still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as they assist area residents — will receive additional assistance from the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

UMCOR directors approved the funding during the Oct. 9-12 annual meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR's parent agency.

The relief agency also announced the awarding of major grants from the U.S. government for work in two African countries and the expectation of a $3.4 million grant from the United Nations Development Program for continuing tsunami-related work in Indonesia.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR's chief executive, noted that the Gulf Coast community centers, which are owned by the board's Women's Division and relate to its community and institutional ministries unit, provide a backbone of support, especially for the poor. "The idea is to bring these institutions back into social service," he said.

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A UMNS photo courtesy of Louisiana Now!

A volunteer work team from South Africa removes debris from outside St. Mark's Community Center in New Orleans.
Work in Louisiana, Mississippi

At Moore Community House in Biloxi, Miss., eight buildings and three playgrounds were destroyed by Katrina. A $392,437 grant will allow the rebuilding of the child development center, playground and offices. Child care for children under 5 years old has been identified as a high-priority unmet need in the area.

A $385,992 grant to the denomination's Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference will allow the expansion of the Dulac Community Center to house volunteers who come to the area to rebuild after a disaster. Dulac is an area populated by the Houma Nation, and many homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita.

Near the French Quarter of New Orleans, a $464,008 grant will be used to rehabilitate St. Mark's Community Center, to provide space for volunteer teams and allow for the start-up of social service programs as the neighborhood is revived.

The Louisiana Conference also will receive a $200,000 grant from UMCOR to provide volunteer housing in Slidell and Lake Charles and at the Peoples Community Center in New Orleans.

In Mississippi, the annual conference plans to use its $300,000 grant to build three storm-resistant multipurpose buildings adjacent to local churches. The buildings will be used for volunteer housing and as a distribution center and warehouse for supplies. Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala., also is supporting the project.

"They're creating long-term readiness," Dirdak said.

Grants approved to assist in the recovery of Katrina evacuees living outside the region included $300,000 to the Memphis and Shelby County Community Service Agency; $266,878 to the Center for Urban Ministries in Birmingham, Ala.; $220,561 to Metro United Urban Methodist Ministries of San Diego; and $200,000 to the United Methodist Memphis Conference. Those funds are in addition to an emergency grant of $100,000 that each received earlier.

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A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

A boy picks his way through streets clogged with debris following the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Aid to Asia, Africa

For its tsunami-related relief work in Indonesia, UMCOR has been negotiating with the United Nations Development Program for a $3.4 million grant "to improve the capacity of 210 local civil society organizations in 70 villages in Aceh (province) and Nias Island to address the needs of their post-tsunami communities."

Once the U.N. grant is secure, UMCOR will add nearly $1.8 million of its own tsunami funding to pay personnel costs for trainers, mentors and evaluators to all 70 villages. "This is the one opportunity to make a significant difference in Nias," Dirdak told directors.

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A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMCOR

Adut Malek Wul and her children sit on a mat given to them by UMCOR to keep them out of the mud and lessen their chances of contracting disease.
He also explained to directors that a $1.4 million grant approved last spring for the rehabilitation of Memorial Park in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, probably would not be used as circumstances related to the project had changed. The money will remain in UMCOR's tsunami fund.

In addition, directors approved a $200,000 grant to the UMCOR-NGO Sri Lanka office to provide emergency assistance to tsunami survivors currently displaced by the conflict there between the government and Tamil Tigers.

UMCOR announced that a donation of wheat from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has resulted in $4 million to support farmers and rural residents of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assistance is providing a $1 million grant to improve access to water and sanitation and increase food security in the southern Darfur region of Sudan. The agency also has received $800,000 from the U.S. State Department for educational work in another region of Sudan. UMCOR will contribute $200,000 to the project.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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