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Church relief agency disburses last of 9-11 grants

10/24/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Linda Bloom*

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Participants mourn at a Pentagon memorial service. Photo number W03066, Accompanies UMNS#509

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A tribute to the victims of Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. Photo number W03067, Accompanies UMNS#509
STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have given United Methodists a new awareness of what it means to be prepared for a disaster.

That's why one of the last round of grants to be approved from the denomination's "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" fund will be invested in the Seminars on Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR) program sponsored by Church World Service and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. The United Methodist Committee on Relief started the fund in response to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Each five-day STAR seminar combines the experiences of participants with "best practices" in the areas of trauma awareness and recovery, restorative justice, conflict transformation and peace building. Information is presented in a practical way to be re-taught in communities and congregations, according to the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, domestic disaster coordinator for the churchwide Committee on Relief.

"I have been searching for ways to respond to the numerous requests UMCOR has received from clergy and bishops across the country, to help prepare them to respond to any new incidents similar to Sept. 11," he told directors of the relief agency, which is a unit of the churchwide Board of Global Ministries. "The STAR program has received great evaluations from those who have participated."

The $300,000 grant to Church World Service for the STAR program was one of 12 approved by relief agency directors during their Oct. 20 annual meeting. Their action means that, two years later, the agency has committed nearly all the $21.5 million raised by United Methodist in response to the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Bishop G. Lindsey Davis of Atlanta, president of the relief agency, said he was proud of how those gifts were administered. He predicted the denomination would be evaluating the impact of the Love in the Midst of Tragedy program for some time to come.

"We've learned some valuable lessons about preparedness," he said. The relief agency has particularly worked hard with the New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Baltimore-Washington annual (regional) conferences "in a way that has strengthened them and their ability to do ministry into the future," he noted.

Final grants allocated to the New York Annual Conference include $145,000 to fund the October 2003 to September 2004 budget of its Disaster Response Task Force; $50,000 as its contribution to the three-to-five year budget of a new organization, New York Disaster Interfaith Services; and $250,000 for its work with the Blanton Peal Institute of Psychotherapy and other counseling providers.

Two programs of the interdenominational Riverside Church in New York received funding approval. The church's social services program will receive $50,000 for the food pantry and direct aid for utilities and rent as it continues to serve a higher caseload of 6,987 individuals, a number affected by the secondary economic impact of Sept. 11. Another $50,000 will go to the Riverside Church Sojourners Ministry with Detained Immigrants, which recruits volunteers from various congregations and the community.

The Virginia Annual Conference is addressing the effects of Sept. 11 on immigrants. Grace Ministries, already a grant recipient, was approved for another $60,000 grant for its outreach to poor immigrant families during the next two years. A second $60,000 grant will be used to provide legal services to poor immigrants through the Just Neighbors Ministry.

Four of the final grants are related to Afghanistan. One of the earliest decisions about the Love in the Midst of Tragedy fund, Davis said, was to use a percentage of the money to help Afghans in need.

Through a partner relief organization, Diakonisches Werk of Germany, the Committee on Relief already had allocated $500,000 to rebuild 10 schools in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Another $100,000 had been approved for a project extension for five new schools and a new health clinic. At this meeting, relief agency directors approved a request to grant the remaining $230,000 needed for the project.

Church World Service, which has built 1,500 new homes for returning refugees in the Shomali Valley of Afghanistan, is constructing another 1,000 homes. Relief agency directors granted $503,125 for the expanded housing project.

The Committee on Relief's nongovernmental organization has enabled the rebuilding of homes and assisted with agricultural and income needs for 200 families in the Bagram District in Afghanistan's Paktiya Province. Directors approved $600,000 for a similar project in three districts of the province.

UMCOR also granted $35,000 to International Assistance Mission, which has worked in Afghanistan for more than 36 years, to help rehabilitate an irrigation system in the Shamali Valley.

More information about the work through Love in the Midst of Tragedy can be found at online.

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

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