Vermont Flood Recovery Grounded in Faith
By Susan Kim*
April 3, 2012 – Bill Elwell, a volunteer firefighter in Vermont, still remembers the Sunday he joined The United Methodist Church at the urging of his wife and his 6-year-old daughter. The very next Sunday, the pastor held a special service for the volunteer fire department.
“I remember how he really connected faith and the fire service, life and death for me,” recalls Elwell.
Four days later, Elwell was called to respond to a house fire. A man was trapped inside. “I survived and he died,” said Elwell. “As I worked through the post-traumatic stress part of it, my faith grew stronger, and things just continued from there.”
Elwell has since become a United Methodist pastor for a two-point charge, the Bristol Federated Church and the Monkton Friends United Methodist Church.
He has also become a leading responder in Vermont's worst flooding in more than a century. After Spring 2011 floodwaters inundated dozens of towns, Tropical Storm Irene destroyed or damaged thousands more homes. Roads, still being repaired today, became 30-foot chasms when floodwaters roared through, leaving entire communities stranded for days.
Elwell has helped create an incorporated nonprofit, the Vermont Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, which manages the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund and offers support for Vermont's ten long-term recovery committees comprised of interfaith, government and nonprofit partners.
Now Elwell and other recovery leaders in Vermont are trying to recruit volunteer teams that can help repair and rebuild homes in the state's hardest hit areas.
Larry Barber, construction coordinator for the Vermont Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, said he values UMCOR's disaster response and preparation training, which has helped the flood recovery grow stronger in the hands of local people. “Everyone is trying to organize rebuilding for their local community,” he said.
Barber is refurbishing two buildings that will be used to accommodate 20 volunteers.
In turn, those volunteers will help groups such as the Northfield-Roxbury Long-Term Recovery Committee. Marsha Hoffman, chair, said that the committee recently received a grant of nearly $4,000 from Home Depot to purchase supplies. “Many people – seven months later -- also still need help clearing debris from their yards.”
Vermont's recovery has been one of expanding partnerships between interfaith groups, government agencies and the private sector, reflected Elwell. “Relationships have been the building block for us,” he said. “A year ago, I never thought I'd find myself in this position.”
Please give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670
to help flood survivors in Vermont as well as disaster survivors across the country.
* Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to UMCOR.org.