UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

From despair to hope, case managers transform lives

By Bella Simonetti*

In the United States, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is known for its involvement in disaster recovery. Even better well-known is the difference UMCOR has made in the lives of survivors thanks to its respected disaster case management program.

UMCOR’s long history of providing disaster case management services that empower survivors to take the lead their own recovery is what makes UMCOR’s work so unique. Because case managers are trained to encourage a holistic response to disasters, they partner with survivors throughout the recovery process, focusing on identifying all the hurdles between a survivor and recovery. 

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The Rev. Laura Ice, recovery coordinator for the Florida Annual Conference, works through claim paperwork with Nirmala Narayan in Florida. Narayan’s home was the first case opened by the conference’s case managers in Central Florida. PHOTO: DEBORAH COBLE

“It’s not just touch and go. We’re with them for the long-haul,” said Christy Smith, a disaster response consultant for UMCOR. “When we talk about holistic response, that includes emotional and spiritual care. It’s woven into everything UMCOR does.” 

“UMCOR is all about respect and dignity for survivors,” said Smith. “We believe in putting survivors in charge of knowing what recovery looks like for them. When people think of recovery, they usually think of a house or a broken building. But in fact, many other things may be more important to their recovery than their house.” 

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Christy Smith, disaster response consultant for UMCOR, has been teaching disaster case management since 2004. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTY SMITH

The depth of a relationship between a survivor and a case manager is to understand the spiritual crisis a survivor, individual, or family is experiencing. “It is the case manager’s job to explore what that broken thing is for a client, whether it’s a broken heart, broken soul, or a broken house,” said Catherine Earl, UMCOR’s director of disaster response and U.S. partner relations.

“The best part of being a disaster case manager is knowing that my efforts made a difference in someone’s life,” said Mellie Jordan, who serves the Mississippi Annual Conference as its disaster response coordinator and is an experienced disaster case management supervisor. “One of the biggest impacts for me, as a disaster case manager, was meeting Martin,” she said.

Martin was a single man in his 60s when Jordan met him in 2014. His home was destroyed by a tornado. “His family took advantage of him by taking the money he received from FEMA assistance,” Jordan said. He lost everything.

Martin’s mother passed away a few years before the tornado. “Over time, I learned about how he carried the death of his mom with guilt. The burden led him to addiction. But after we came, and the Mennonite partners came in, he changed,” said Jordan. “His whole life was changed because someone showed they cared,” said Jordan. 

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Mellie Jordan, disaster response coordinator for the Mississippi Annual Conference, visits with members of the community in Hattiesburg, Mississippi after a tornado PHOTO: CATHERINE EARL

Throughout the United States and its territories, UMCOR-trained case managers are partnering with survivors and transforming broken lives.

• UMCOR is partnering with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. Today, 30 UMCOR-trained disaster case managers are identifying and assessing unmet needs for 900 households recovering from Hurricane Maria. 

• Eighteen case managers are working with the Florida Annual Conference to reach 3,900 households recovering from Hurricane Irma. Additional case managers are deployed in Florida to work with 500 displaced persons from Puerto Rico recovering from Hurricane Maria. 

• Seven disaster case managers are working with the Louisiana Annual Conference to address the unmet needs of survivors recovering from Hurricane Harvey and 2016 flooding. In a combined effort, these case managers will work with at least 1,000 survivors. 

• UMCOR is working with numerous partners in Texas to train and deploy case managers for long-term recovery in response to Hurricane Harvey. 

• UMCOR is supporting its partners in California who are in recovery phase from 2017 wildfires and debris flow. UMCOR-trained case managers are working with vulnerable areas to reach those in most need. 

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Homeowner Amy Morse (left) discusses flood recovery options with case manager Joyce Solberg inside her home in Minot, North Dakota. The walls have been stripped to the framing and flooring removed following the flood of June 2011. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE

Because disaster case managers work with clients for the long haul, the next time you hear the phrase “early in, last out,” you will know more of what that means. For more information about volunteering, please contact your jurisdictional or conference UMVIM coordinator. To support UMCOR and programs such as disaster case management, visit www.UMCOR.org.

*Bella Simonetti is a communication specialist for Global Ministries.