|By Holly McCray
The denomination’s emergency relief agency awarded a $100,000 grant in December to help Oklahomans recover from disastrous summer wildfires.
The money from UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, will fund case management, which is one-on-one work with disaster survivors over the long term.
"It’s very difficult, time-consuming, and emotional working with families to help them put their lives back together," said Richard Norman.
He is a leader at linking survivors with resources and people willing to help. Rev. Norman is the Oklahoma Conference’s disaster response coordinator and Volunteers In Mission associate director.
And he is new chairman of the Oklahoma VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), a collaborative group of government agencies and faith-based entities, including The United Methodist Church.
Norman described the fires in late July and August. Creek County residents suffered the greatest losses. Officials reported 603 homes were destroyed east of Interstate 35.
"These firestorms were a mile long and 100 feet high in some places. Everything melted," Richard said.
"I’m adamant about us United Methodists getting involved in the recovery. This—disaster case management—is where we’re needed. After many disasters, hundreds of families never recover without help or assistance."
He said 85 percent of the wildfire survivors were uninsured and impoverished. "It’s the vulnerable populations we’re really concerned about, the physically and mentally challenged, the elderly."
Norman said an elderly couple was found living in a stock trailer 12 days after they lost their home.
Soon after the fires, a group of UM volunteers completed UMCOR case management training, Norman said. They established an office in space donated by Mannford UMC. Contributions to the Oklahoma Conference General Disaster Fund provided $50,000 to prioritize and begin filling needs.
A supervisor, assistant, and several volunteers have been deeply engaged in that effort.
"UMCOR has seen how important this is to Oklahoma United Methodists," Norman said, "because of the willingness of the people to take the training and of the Mannford church to turn over their facility for offices. UMCOR wants to use this as an example of what United Methodists can and should do in a disaster."
Seventy percent of the $100,000 grant must go to direct assistance—septic tanks, utility installations, wheelchair ramps, home appliances. Thirty percent will cover office expenses. Disaster case managers must provide careful accounting to UMCOR.
In the past, Oklahoma United Methodists have donated generously after disasters outside the state. The UMCOR grant embodies the effectiveness of the Church’s connectional system for all.
"I can’t stress how important the connection is," said Norman. "We are the only faith-based group bringing funds to the table for the long-term recovery work."