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Response to 9/11 leaves lasting legacy in New York

Sept. 12, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — The response by New York faith groups to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left a lasting legacy.

That legacy is New York Disaster Interfaith Services, whose mission is to “develop and support faith-based disaster readiness, response and recovery services for New York City.”

According to the Rev. Charles “Chick” Straut, a United Methodist who serves as the organization’s treasurer, NYDIS is “the best part of the story” in the recovery from the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Rev. Ramon Nieves ran the New York 9/11 case management program for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. He said the interfaith effort is the long-lasting result of a process that allows the faith community to respond immediately to future disasters. He described Peter Gudaitis, an Episcopalian who serves as the organization’s executive director, as “a visionary.”

Nieves, who was instrumental in the development of NYDIS, said he and his ecumenical colleagues “felt we had to put something together in the context of interfaith services so if this happens again, the religious community is ready to respond. I give credit to UMCOR for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of it.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of New York Disaster Interfaith Services

New York Disaster Interfaith Services, founded in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, provides faith-based response and recovery services.
Five Protestant organizations, including UMCOR, put up $50,000 apiece for the financial organization’s financial foundation, while other groups made smaller contributions. “That gave this operation a fiscal foundation and has enabled it to continue to work,” Straut explained.

Gudaitis acknowledged the importance of United Methodist involvement in NYDIS. The denomination’s leadership and expertise after 9/11 “was really a critical factor” in the organization becoming a sponsoring partner for unmet needs and the forum for a long-term interfaith partnership, he said.

UMCOR has given more than $1 million in grants for the unmet needs roundtable and continues to provide funds for projects, including a recovery program for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the New York area, he added. Straut and the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie of the United Methodist New York Annual (regional) Conference continue to sit on the NYDIS board.

Today, the organization has a partnership of more than 20 faith communities, a full-time staff of 13 and a $2.5 million annual budget. Most of the budget is raised through grants, according to Gudaitis. The largest donor for 2006 was the American Red Cross, with a grant of just more than $1.1 million.

“We have evolved quite a bit since 9/11, although we still focus a significant part of our work on 9/11 recovery,” he said.

A significant amount of time is also spent on showing others around the country “a new model of how individual communities can sustain long-term capacity for readiness and response in addition to recovery,” Gudaitis added.

*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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