A message of spiritual resiliency is painted on a badly damaged house in West, Texas.
By Susan Kim*
Aug. 27, 2013—School started this week in West, TX, marking the first time many children have returned to the town since a massive fertilizer plant explosion in April changed their lives forever.
The blast damaged the middle, intermediate, and high schools beyond repair. The blast from the West Fertilizer Company also killed 15 people, injured hundreds more, and destroyed dozens of homes.
For the children, their parents, and all the residents of West, restoring a sense of normalcy is taking time, patience and spiritual resilience. United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been supporting their efforts. This month, UMCOR offered case management training in West, setting in motion a network of people who will accompany the residents as their long-term recovery begins.
Nikki Leaverton, case management supervisor, said the town is at a crossroads in terms of rebuilding. “West has been really fortunate to receive donations of demolition from charitable groups,” she said, “and volunteers have done a wonderful job of clearing people's lots. Now, people are asking what happens next.”
Many people are only just beginning to wrap their minds around the rebuilding process, she continued. “They are wondering what that process will look like for them.”
Churches in Texas and across the nation have been supporting West through monetary donations, volunteerism, and prayers. The Rev. Dara Austin, pastor at White's Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, TX, said that her congregation deployed trained early response teams as soon as they could be sent safely.
Now, Austin said, members of her congregation continue to reach out to residents in West, serving as case managers and planning to serve on rebuilding teams. She urged people not to forget that West is only beginning its long-term recovery.
“As time begins to move on, a lot of people forget that recovery takes a long, long time,” she said. “It's not just that 30, 60, 90 days that you provide food, shelter, and water. Sometimes recovery takes years. Our church wants to be able to help on the front end and we also believe it's very important to be in it for the long haul.”
Brooke Akers, a member of White's Chapel, has been volunteering in West as a case manager. She contacts West residents, determines the resources they need, and helps them chart a long-term recovery plan.
Akers said she has always been interested in helping people in the wake of a disaster. “My husband and I are recently retired, so now I have the freedom to offer this support to others,” she said. “I jumped on the opportunity when it was presented by our church.”
Help the people of West and other communities struggling in the wake of disasters as they restore their sense of normalcy and spiritual resiliency. Please donate to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.