5 nonprofits unite in disaster response
By Holly McCray
As the crowd grew, so did the smiles of officials preparing Sept. 18 to cut a ribbon and formally open the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project’s case management center in Moore.
The open house offered a peek into a highly unusual unified effort by five major nonprofits — including the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church — to channel aid to people who suffered from storms May 19-31 in central Oklahoma.
The Project’s focus is case management in the long term. Centers also are located in El Reno and Shawnee.
This work will help people such as the Moore single mother who stood quietly inside the hall that opening day.
The family had lost everything in another tornado, in another year, yet had persevered and rebuilt. Then the May 20 tornado smashed that home and wrecked two cars. The mother said she had received FEMA funds, which must be used for housing. But old cars hold no insurance value. She needed help to get a vehicle but, after arriving at the center, she waffled.
So many lives were upended in May, she said. "I’m a giver. It’s hard to ask for help…"
Caring case managers drew out her concerns. She made an appointment to return and left in good spirits.
One person, one family at a time, the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project aims to meet the unique needs of tornado survivors. The collaboration itself also may be unique. Civic and nonprofit leaders at the Moore ribbon-cutting repeatedly said "unprecedented."
Joining forces with UM Oklahoma Conference are these other primary contributors: the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Adding strength through Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (Oklahoma VOAD) are United Way of Central Oklahoma and other civic and faith groups.
"These agencies were working in disaster response, but none was sized appropriately to meet the sheer scale of need that these storms brought," said speaker Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. "This is an unprecedented collaborative effort. Let’s get after it, to ensure that individual assistance for those affected is given. There’s enough press and publicity to go around."
Agreeing was speaker Janienne Bella, Red Cross regional chief executive officer and also a United Methodist. "It was early on that the agencies came together and said we’ve got to do this together. There are many, many people who made this a possibility. Not one agency can handle the volume, the need," she said.
Raglow said, "The United Methodist Church, a solid partner, has provided the training for all of the case managers that have been brought in."
The Red Cross is the umbrella organization for the Project and is providing the facilities, the infrastructure, and funding. Because the Red Cross covers those costs, the monies received by the UM Oklahoma Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) are being used for direct aid for affected people. Also, UMCOR continues case management training under contract.
Catholic Charities policies and procedures steer the Project’s work. The Salvation Army also is contributing case managers and its legendary resources for people in need. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides the "House in a Box" program.
Oklahoma VOAD is chaired by UM deacon Richard Norman, who also is disaster response coordinator in the Oklahoma Conference Office of Mission.
Other United Methodists in lead roles for the Project are UM deacon Mary Gaudreau, an UMCOR consultant who lives in Oklahoma. She will serve on a task force headed by the Oklahoma Conference of Churches within Oklahoma VOAD. She specializes in emotional and spiritual care.
The disaster response office at Moore-First UMC, open since late May, will continue in service as a Volunteer Reception Center, according to Jeremy Basset, director of the Conference Office of Mission.
United Methodists also will provide staff for Volunteer Reception Centers at Shawnee, in St. Paul’s UMC; and at El Reno. Interviewed by UMCOR, Rev. Norman said the service of thousands of volunteers will be coordinated through the Project.
Some 2,500 families, across all disaster areas, were identified initially for potential long-term help. But the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project representatives urge all people to spread awareness about the aid.
"We know there are others out there that were affected and that think help is not available," Raglow said. "Be the messenger."
From the regional sites — Moore, Shawnee, and El Reno — more than 40 case managers will be assigned to work one-on-one with clients. These trained workers know how "to navigate the E-I-E-I-O soup of federal, state, local, nonprofit agencies," Raglow said.