Carol Greenslate, disaster response coordinator for the Texas Annual (regional) Conference, advises responders. Photo: Marji Bishir Hill
What do award-winning disaster responders have in common?
By Susan Kim*
January 12, 2016—In the midst of responding to last month’s tornadoes in Texas, Carol Greenslate is still able to take time to consider what makes United Methodist disaster responders turn compassion into effective response.
“One important aspect of our disaster response is the connectional nature of our church,” said Greenslate, disaster response coordinator for the Texas Annual (regional) Conference. When tornadoes struck areas around Dallas, Greenslate as well as responders from other parts of the state lent their time and expertise to help the badly damaged communities. “We don’t just respond in our own area. We cross conference and jurisdictional lines and we help each other out.”
Greenslate and her team of responders in Houston received public appreciation from the communities they helped in the wake of flooding that affected thousands of people in May 2015. Her team’s long-term recovery efforts also received a proclamation from the city of Houston in June 2015.
A sharp focus on survivors
Many United Methodist disaster responders have been recognized by their communities, conferences and colleagues. But they are focused on disaster survivors, not recognition.
Jim Truitt, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Conference, received a bishop’s award for more than nine years of disaster response work at both the conference and national levels. Those who have worked with Truitt in dozens of disasters think the award is well-deserved. For Truitt, “It was a shock,” he said. “It took me totally by surprise.”
As they quietly work to help survivors, responders adopt a positive vision of the people they’re helping and the wider community. Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for the Central Texas Conference, wrote a story about her experience responding in the town of West, Texas, in the wake of an explosion at a fertilizer company that killed 15 people, destroyed 120 homes and damaged 200 others.
“From the residents and first responders of West to those who came from across Texas on the first day following the blast, every person, every organization, every department has played a hand in the recovery and rebuilding of this great community,” she wrote.
Waughtal’s reflections became a front-page story in the town’s newspaper, The West News. “That’s a first!” she said.
Working well with other response groups has become a signature skill of United Methodist responders. Mike Moore, flood recovery director for the Rocky Mountain Conference, was recognized along with his team of responders for helping survivors during their long-term recovery from flooding in September 2013.
Moore received a certificate of appreciation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency voluntary agency liaison and the state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). “I was surprised as I did not know that they were recognizing the VOAD members for their efforts,” he said.
The New York Conference’s ministry for Hurricane Sandy recovery was recognized by the New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) as its Member of the Year for 2015. “Supported by UMCOR, the conference, and volunteers from around the country, the Sandy ministry has supported recovery effort through volunteer rebuild teams, disaster case management, disaster spiritual and emotional care, participation at the NYDIS and Long Island unmet needs tables, direct aid to survivors, collaboration with other recovery organizations, and advocacy for Sandy survivors and communities,” said Tom Vencuss, disaster recovery coordinator.
Reducing risk over the long haul
United Methodist responders are also known for their persistence in helping survivors over the long term — and helping them be more ready for the next disaster. In Florida, the Pensacola Be Ready Alliance for Coordinating Emergencies (BRACE) recognized UMCOR responders for their personal expertise and financial backing to help people in the state not only recover but reduce their risk for the future.
“I believe the way UMCOR invests funds in recovery helps disaster survivors be impacted less during the next storm,” said Amelia Fletcher, disaster response coordinator in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “And, unfortunately, in our state, there will always be a next storm.”
Your gift to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, helps communities recover from disasters — and prepare for the next disaster.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.