After severe wildfires struck Middletown, Calif., scorched mountain top properties stud the horizon. Photo by Adam DuBrowa/FEMA
Disaster case management is a holistic plan for recovery that addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs
By Susan Kim*
July 19, 2016 — In rural Jackson County, Ohio, a single father lost his home and garden to flooding. He found himself living in a tent with his six children.
The man had been cooking on a one-burner hot plate even before the flooding. In the wake of the disaster, what worried him most was that his children might have to change schools.
With the help of a United Methodist case manager, he was able to form a recovery plan. He moved into a dry home with donated furniture in the same school district as before.
His is one story of thousands that unfold as case managers help disaster survivors across the nation. “I have difficulty putting into words how meaningful each and every story is to me,” said Catherine Earl, who, as a disaster response program manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), has led many disaster case management training workshops. “Our work matters.”
Case management — a holistic plan for recovery that addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs — is the backbone of long-term disaster response work. Case managers have stories of healing and empowerment that remind us all of the difference we make for each other.
Debbie Bates, a case manager in rural Caddo Lake, in east Texas, is helping people recover from flooding. She worked with a young mother of a 2-year-old who, before the flood, was living in an RV owned by her mother. Helping this woman and child involved finding safe housing with access to childcare. “This was a real victory for everyone,” said Bates.
She also recalls a military veteran in his 50s who lost an arm in a car accident. He lived in a trailer that belonged to his grandmother. When heavy rains came, the ceiling leaked, ruining the electrical wiring. He lost his job and is now on a $700-per-month fixed income.
Bates and her team have been helping the man learn about resources from the military and the local workforce. “He can be productive,” Bates said.
Local places, familiar faces
Often, case managers are local residents pulled into disaster recovery in their own community.
Jacqui Maxman, disaster case management coordinator for the Valley Fire Long Term Recovery in Lake County, Calif., vividly recalls the days and weeks immediately following the onset of the Valley Fire, which ultimately burned hundreds of homes.
“We served well over 1,500 people through the day shelter at United Christian Parish,” she said. “I can honestly say that I knew each person — either by their neighborhood, their family, employment, or plain old having grown up with them. Among the homes lost, my grandfather built at least 30 of them, over the years, that I can remember without pulling out the ledger. I was, and still am, grateful that I was able to be a familiar face and offer some relief.”
For case managers, their job is a calling that holds hard work and deep meaning, agreed Beth Tipton, a case management supervisor in the Holston Conference.
“Case management is a beautiful ministry in which I have personally seen despair turn to hope, and hope result in faith because people of the United Methodist Church continue to be with clients and empower them to recover long after the disaster actually occurs,” she said.
“Case management reaches into people's lives at a very vulnerable time and is a tangible example of redemption for those who are often hopeless. God changes not only the clients' lives but, also, the case managers, through relationships and simply being human together.”
Disaster recovery happens one person at a time. Please help with a gift to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.