The Voices of Sandy Recovery — You Can Say Yes!

The Voices of Sandy Recovery — You Can Say Yes!

Joanne Utley


“Returning a Sense of Belonging”

Will you say “yes” to help those longing to return home after three years? Download this compilation video to show at your church or in your community to make people aware of the continuing need to help survivors of Superstorm Sandy rebuild their homes and lives. Click the links below the video to download a copy to your device.

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United Methodists Are Hands-On

By Arthur McClanahan and Brooke Pierce*

“It’s the best job in the world,” declared Susan Shaw, who is the disaster recovery specialist for Connecticut for the New York Annual Conference. But it’s certainly not an easy job.

Still in Recovery Three Years Later

Shaw, who has been helping people in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, frequently deals with disaster case managers whose clients are homeless, disabled, or simply overwhelmed. She works with them to create a recovery plan, which may involve anything from offering assistance with insurance claims to getting a contractor. Then she has to figure out the cost, see about funding, and determine whether there are partners or volunteers to work with the client.

“For the most part we’re dealing with clients who have multiple issues, so getting to recovery can be a bit more complex,” she explained.

“In the beginning, you could say, ‘For $5,000, we can get this person the electrical and they’re fine.’ Now we’re dealing with people three years out, many who haven’t been home. The financial resources are less. The ability to cope, if they’re not living in their homes, is more difficult.”

The Milford area, where Shaw is based, and Fairfield were the two hardest hit areas in Connecticut. More than 3,000 homes in the two coastal communities were damaged or destroyed in the storm.

Dwindling Resources

Dealing with clients can be a significant challenge in itself, but the problem is compounded by a decreasing number of resources.

“There’s not always enough money,” Shaw noted. “At the end of three years – which isn’t that long given other recoveries – our partners are running out of money.” For that reason it has become very important for them to get donations – particularly of materials.

“For the house we’re working on, it’s all donated materials. Paint, paintbrushes, everything. And that’s a big expense that we don’t have to undertake,” said Shaw. “We need to do more of that to make the dollars last as long.”

Partners & Volunteers

In April of last year, through St. Vincent de Paul’s “House in a Box” program, they were able to get just about all the household materials you could need to fill dozens of houses.

“It’s the mattress and bedspring and the headboards all the way to the pots and pans and the dishes, forks and knives, shower curtains, and all that,” Shaw said. “We made arrangements to have it shipped by trucks into a warehouse here in Milford. And we distributed it to about 48 families.”

It was a classic example of how partnerships are key to recovery efforts.

“We found somebody that donated a warehouse for us,” Shaw said. “Mormon Helping Hands came out and did a lot of work with us to empty out these container trucks, get them sorted. And then we had different delivery services – some we paid, some who donated – who got the stuff to the house and in the home.”

Volunteers and groups like HomeFront, Volunteers in Mission, and the aforementioned Mormon Helping Hands have played an important role in helping disaster recovery efforts in hard-hit communities like Milford – and more are needed.

“When people see volunteers, they don’t see the money you spent or that you bought them a new washer/dryer,” Shaw explained. “When they see volunteers, suddenly they come out of their homes. They’ll become involved and they’ll start interacting with you, and that gives them permission to also involve themselves in the recovery.”

Disaster Hits Home

Shaw knows of what she speaks, having been on both sides of the recovery equation. “Sandy damaged our home substantially. Like everybody else in this community, we had to rebuild. We had a lot of pitfalls along the way. We were robbed and all the bad stuff that could happen seemed to happen at this location. But I have friends and they helped us. I had a contractor, who is now working for us, who helped us and got us through it. And I lived with very good friends of mine not far away.”

Despite her own difficulties, Shaw considers herself lucky.

“In nine months, we were able to move back in. Much of the furniture that you see in our house was built by a woodworker friend. So it all means something, because it came from somebody else who thought enough of us to give it to us, to help us.”

The Personal Touch

The people are really what it is all about. Because as much as folks are grateful when they’re given a new roof or some other fix, “the personal interaction is the thing that they take away,” Shaw said. “That has the most meaning for people who have suffered a disaster.”

Offering that personal interaction is an enormous part of what Shaw does as a disaster resource specialist, and she’s glad to be able to do it, despite the challenges.

“Doing this work is always what I wanted to do. It fits in with who I want to be, and to have the opportunity to do that is great,” she said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to have the access to the support and resources to help people?”

Shaw, a member of the Episcopal Church, has come to love working with United Methodists.

“Methodists are hands-on. To experience God, to do God’s work, is about being out in the community. And that resonates with me,” Shaw said. “It’s an experience that has opened my eyes to what the Methodists do, and what the United Methodist Committee on Relief is doing all over the world. And I’m very, very happy to be here.”

*Rev. Dr. Arthur McClanahan is director of communications for the Iowa Conference, United Methodist Church.  Brooke Pierce writes for the Iowa Conference Communications Ministry Team.

“I Can Do a Lot More Than I Thought I Could Do”

A group of United Methodists from Vermont was inspired by their Disciple Bible Study to create a mission team that has since traveled to Connecticut, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and New Jersey. They also organized weekly workdays to assist in their own community for 15 months following Hurricane Irene.

A Ministry of Accompaniment

Pastor Wendy Vencuss has been working, and training others, as a disaster emotional and spiritual care consultant with UMCOR for the last 18 months. UMCOR is hoping to have people in every conference available to offer this specialized assistance.

Care specialists “come alongside” victims of disasters to walk through the process.

“Many people [three years out] are in the disillusionment stage, and are not sure how to navigate the system,” Vencuss said. “We’re offering a ministry of presence . . . and extend care to people of all faith backgrounds.

COMING TOMORROW: The caring attitude of Methodist volunteers touches one homeowner; organizations work together to help a homeowner; Matt Curry shares his witness of a week of Sandy work.

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