Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EDOT Launches Collaborative Wildfire Relief Effort

Wildfire Relief 1
Many homes likes this one remain
in piles of rubble
Wildfire Relief 2
Thousand of acres of forest have
been blackened
Diocesan officials announced today that a coordinated effort to help Bastrop County families recover from last September’s wildfires has begun. Volunteers and donations are needed to help rebuilding efforts. EDOT’s Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief and Development (TEDRD) is working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to start “Faith Village,” a housing center for volunteers located in Smithville, Texas. Located in Smithville, Texas, Faith Village will house around 40 volunteers in a building donated by Smithville Baptist Church.

The Rev. Gill Keyworth, Diocesan Emergency Response Coordinator, is collaborating with local groups and the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Committee to create a strategic plan for relief efforts. Keyworth, a deacon at Emmanuel, Houston, has spent three days a week for the past few months in Bastrop. For her, the goal is teamwork.

“We’re not worrying about whether we are Lutherans or Episcopalians or Presbyterians. Everyone is working together,” Keyworth said.

In September of 2011, Texans watched as 1670 homes and 35,000 acres of land burned in Bastrop County. Today, new construction is beginning, but there are still stark reminders of the past. What was once a beautiful, forested escape is now a landscape of blackened, leaf-less trees, rising up from a gray, barren ground.

A monstrous pile of rubble sits on the south side of Highway 71, constantly emptied and refilled with the stone and brick remains of homes. Around the county, crews work constantly to grind the dead trees into mulch, a process that will take years to complete. But behind the dark exterior, hope abounds. In just four months since Texas’ most devastating fire season, Bastrop County volunteers have pushed to organize a rebuilding movement.

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas immediately responded in the days after the fire. EDOT raised more than $100,000, including $17,000 in gift cards for fire victims. Those funds were instrumental in helping families that had lost everything with essential needs.

Now, the mission has shifted focus to rebuilding homes, and faith-based organizations across Bastrop County are teaming up to begin the effort. When volunteers arrive, they will report to a central construction coordinator, who will use construction foremen to oversee specific projects. TEDRD has hired Gary Davis to act as one construction foreman. Davis previously served as the construction manager for Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief in Galveston following Hurricane Ike. His wife, Gena, is the vicar of Grace, Houston.

Faith Village is now open for registration here. Currently, much of the work still revolves around clean up. Many homes still lie in debris on the slabs where they once stood. Some items like pottery or metal objects can be seen lying amid broken the stone and brick.

Once the clean-up nears completion, construction projects will begin in earnest. TEDRD will use a grant from Episcopal Relief & Development as well as foundation grants to begin the relief project, but much more funding is needed to help an estimated 400 families that need assistance. Visit the Wildfire Relief Page to learn more about how to help.

Church Provides Support for Community

The Rev. Lisa Hines was in California when she learned her home was in the pathway of a fire. She flew home not knowing whether her home was still standing.

“I never went home,” Hines said. By the time she returned, her husband, Chris, had already evacuated, leaving almost everything behind.

As rector of Calvary, Bastrop, Hines spent the next few days ensuring the safety of her parishioners. At one point the fire came so close to the downtown area of Bastrop that Hines packed the Eucharistic vessels into her car, in case she had to evacuate. After several weeks, the fire was officially declared extinguished on October 10. The church and downtown survived, but 43 families from Calvary Church and School lost their homes, including the Hines family.

“In some ways it gave me a little advantage because I was one of them,” Hines said. “By virtue of showing up I had great moral authority.”

“A lot of times we use the phrase ‘I know how you feel,’ but Lisa could honestly say it,” Keyworth said.

Hines sold the property where her old home once stood and is moving closer to the church. Many other families from Calvary are still searching for permanent housing. Some are living in FEMA trailers; some are renting and others are staying with family. Many have had to move several times since the fire.

Over the Christmas holidays, Hines helped some families that couldn’t afford presents for their children. But even the families that were financially stable struggled with the emotional toll the fire had taken.

“It is a continuing source of stress throughout the community,” Hines said. “There is no question about that. Christmas was a hard time for families. Christmas is one of those times that strings the years together. It helps you remember all of the other Christmases when you pull those mementos out, and now there is this big gap.”

Though most fire victims have resolved to stay in Bastrop, Hines said at least five families decided to leave the area altogether. Calvary has been able to help many families get back on their feet including one parishioner whose son needs a heart transplant. Hines helped him with a down payment for his home.

“We’ve helped as many non-parishioners as parishioners,” Hines said. “But our biggest needs now are volunteers and money for construction materials. The long-term recovery of Bastrop depends on recreating a tax-base for the county because that is what runs the public school system.”

To learn more about how to help Bastrop County recover, visit www.epicenter.org/wildfire-relief/.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blitz Build Starts in Mississippi

In Mississippi, one community plans two-week blitz build to replace one family's home destroyed in an April tornado. Work begins Saturday, July 9 in Smithville, MS. Interested volunteers should email the Rev. Russ Oechsel, Archdeacon, at roechsel@sbcglobal.net. Donors for this and ongoing tornado relief can donate here or make checks payable to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Write "MS/AL Tornado Relief" in the memo line and send to 1225 Texas Ave Houston, TX 77002.

Below is a letter from the Rev. Paul Stephens, rector of All Saints, Tupelo, MS:

We have been touched by the suffering that Wade Morris and his family have endured these past months. (Wade is the nephew of the Rev. Judy Morris, associate at St. Peter’s by the Lake, Brandon, MS). Wade suffered severe burns to his hands, arms, chest and face in a grease fire which occurred several weeks before the tornado hit Smithville, MS.

Because he had been laid off from his job and didn’t have health insurance when the accident occurred, Morris had to be separated from his family (pregnant wife Jennifer and two children) and taken to the burn center in Memphis for treatment. His treatment in Memphis was grueling and included multiple skin grafts. He was discharged about two weeks before the Smithville tornado hit so he could be home for the birth of his third child (a beautiful and healthy baby girl born 10 days before the tornado) provided he agreed to make at least two trips a week to Memphis for burn care and physical therapy. Those trips are anticipated to continue for several months into the future. The Morrises were at home in downtown Smithville when the tornado hit.

That April afternoon, the house they were renting and all their possessions, including vehicles, were totally destroyed. Fortunately and providentially, Wade and his immediate family escaped injury. Since the tornado, Wade and his family first lived with family members and then in a hunting cabin in the woods. As I write this note, they are preparing to move into a FEMA trailer which has been located in downtown Smithville.

Texas and FEMA Begin Joint Recovery Efforts

A team of emergency management experts from the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are working side by side, following a presidential disaster declaration, to help eligible state and local government entities, and certain nonprofit organizations receive federal aid for their eligible wildfire costs.

The federal disaster declaration, announced on July 1, triggered FEMA's Public Assistance (PA) program for 45 Texas counties. Applicants in these counties are now eligible to receive reimbursement funding for Emergency Protective Measures that supported firefighting activities for wildfires that occurred between April 6 and May 3, 2011.

"Together we will work to ensure state agencies, local jurisdictions and eligible nonprofit groups are reimbursed for their firefighting efforts," said State Coordinating Officer Shari Ramirez-MacKay. "This assistance will help as our communities continue to recover from these historic fires."

"The FEMA team is on the ground in Austin and will remain in Texas working with our state and local partners until recovery efforts are complete," said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes. "We will also be visiting the declared counties as quickly as possible to explain the funding program and assist in the reimbursement process."

The 45 eligible counties include Andrews, Archer, Armstrong, Bailey, Baylor, Brewster, Callahan, Carson, Castro, Clay, Coleman, Concho, Cottle, Crockett, Dawson, Duval, Eastland, Garza, Glasscock, Hall, Hemphill, Hockley, Irion, Kent, King, Lynn, Martin, Mason, Mitchell, Moore, Motley, Pecos, Presidio, Scurry, Stephens, Sterling, Sutton, Terrell, Terry, Throckmorton, Tom Green, Trinity, Tyler, Val Verde, and Young. FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of eligible wildfire costs.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Farewell From Galveston

Dearest Volunteers, Donors, Friends and Family,

I'm sitting here alone in the empty office, all packed up and ready to ship out, thinking back on all of the good work and good times we here at TEDRD have had since 2008.  I find myself overwhelmed by all of you, the incredible people who made it all possible.  Without your early and overwhelming response to Hurricane Ike, this program would never have made it off the ground, and you have supported us ever since.

In the last 2 years, 5 months and 10 days we have had more than 2800 people travel from within Texas and beyond to volunteer with us.  You are Episcopalian and Lutherans and Catholics and Atheists, experienced carpenters and people who have never picked up a paint brush, young and young at heart, but you all were always ready to put everything you had into the task at hand.  Because of you, we have been able to do repairs to 60 homes and muck out more than 125 others.  You, the volunteers and donors, made it possible for us to more than double the over $1 million in donations and grants we have received.  That is an incredible feat, and one that I am so proud of.

There is so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is two very quiet hurricane seasons since 2008.  But that doesn't mean the work here is over.  Even as we finish this  ministry in Galveston, churches within the Diocese of Texas are taking the next steps in preparing themselves for the next emergency, whether it is a hurricane or something else, and I would encourage all of you to do the same.  Episcopal Relief and Development is hard at work creating resources and educating Diocese in disaster preparedness and response.  I highly encourage you to look at their website, http://www.er-d.org/USDisasterProgram/, and sign up for their "Ready to Serve" database (http://www.er-d.org/VolunteerForm/). 

This database gives Episcopal Relief and Development permission to contact you in the future about volunteer opportunities of all kinds as well as gets you on their newsletter list, and I hope every last one of you signs up.

There aren't the words to adequately thank all of you for your prayers, love and support throughout this mission, just know that we could never have done any of it without you.  Please look us up on Facebook and keep in touch!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reaching the Finish Line

We're approaching the finish line after 2.5 years in Galveston. What a blessing it has been to see the transformation in the community!

Look for us at Council this weekend! And check out www.facebook.com/ikerelief to view pictures!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TEDRD Farewell Potluck

Come out and have a party with us one last time! TEDRD is throwing a farewell potluck Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at the William Temple Episcopal Center.

Bring your favorite dish to share and say goodbye. We'd love to see you.

Contact Luke with any questions at 713.252.9693.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Presiding Bishop Blesses Home!

Courtesy of the Galveston Daily News:

Published January 16, 2011

GALVESTON — Melvin Brooks gathered with his family at his small frame home just off Broadway in Galveston on Saturday.

Displaced by Hurricane Ike, the homeowners waited as dusk fell to welcome a distinguished visitor and benefactor, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

The bishop was on the island to conduct a formal blessing of the Brooks family home and to encourage representatives of the many volunteers who have spent the past months restoring it.

As darkness fell outside, the interior space was lit only by a few scattered industrial lights. As volunteers and leaders arrived and the bishop’s entourage made its way from the island’s William Temple Episcopal Center, members of the Brooks family reviewed what life had been like since the storm.

“It was a mess with water damage and rain from the windows,” Rena Brooks, Melvin’s wife, said. “We stayed in a hotel, all together in just one room — then had to find a place to rent. We couldn’t get any help from FEMA.”

Help finally came after a co-worker told them of a grant program from the Episcopal Church. The family, narrowly avoiding foreclosure, was able to hold on to the property.

“With the help of the Lord, we were able to keep going,” Rena Brooks said.

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