Harvey Response Continues to Bring Hope to Coast

Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference (right), and District Superintendent, Rev. Robert Lopez, look on during an update from Nikki Leaverton, Disaster Recovery Director (left), and Vicki McCuistion, Disaster Recovery Asset Manager.

Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference (right), and District Superintendent, Rev. Robert Lopez, look on during an update from Nikki Leaverton, Disaster Recovery Director (left), and Vicki McCuistion, Disaster Recovery Asset Manager.

Hurricane Harvey made initial landfall on the Texas coast on August 26, 2017. While the initial response to those in need was overwhelming, the real work of restoration is only beginning.

Rio Early Response Teams; joined by teams from across the country; began the critical work of mucking out homes, tarping roofs and dealing with downed trees and debris as soon as it was safe to enter impacted areas. Nearly five months later, Early Response Teams are still working to finish that essential work.

"There are still homes that need to be mucked and gutted or roofs tarped by early response teams," said Rio Texas Disaster Response Coordinator Eugene Hileman "Those teams could still be working for a couple of months."

Long-Term Recovery

Meanwhile, the next phase of recovery is already underway in four areas in the Coastal Bend and Crossroads Districts. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) teams are working on long-term recovery needs identified through case management offices established in Aransas Pass and Victoria. They are also supporting local efforts in La Grange and Columbus.

Case managers with Rev. Tim Brewer, Senior Pastor of First UMC, Victoria

Case managers with Rev. Tim Brewer, Senior Pastor of First UMC, Victoria

First United Methodist Church, Aransas Pass is providing office space for four case managers, a case manager supervisor, and a construction supervisor. They are in the process of hiring two construction project managers. First United Methodist Church, Victoria is hosting an additional four case managers and a supervisor. They have just hired a construction supervisor and are also hiring two construction project managers

In each of the four areas, the Rio Texas Conference will be partnering with local efforts to fund rebuilding and recovery needs identified through case management.  

Case Managers Facilitate Recovery

Case managers play an essential and often-overlooked role in long-term recovery. They help homeowners navigate the complex process of working with FEMA, insurance companies, and relief agencies to get their homes repaired or rebuilt as quickly as possible. Their knowledge of available resources helps to stretch the dollars given for relief efforts.

"While volunteers are ready and willing to get to work, many bureaucratic steps must be completed first," said Rio Texas Disaster Recovery Director Nikki Leaverton. "In the aftermath of a hurricane, insurance companies often negotiate who is responsible for coverage. Sometimes a roof is damaged leading to water damage in the home and time is spent determining if the claim should be covered as wind damage or water damage."

Rebuilding a client’s home can be delayed until these issues are worked out.

"It can be slow and frustrating when we have volunteers and resources ready to go, but we can't start the work due to delays as clients work through the sequence of delivery," said Rio Texas Disaster Recovery Asset Manager Vicki McCuistion. "We have people who need help and people who want to help, and everyone just wants to get started, but patience is important and generally rewarded." Despite delays in the process, case management has identified clients who are ready to go and VIM teams have been repairing homes since the day after Christmas.

Volunteer Villages

To help facilitate the work of UMVIM teams, two volunteer villages have been created in Sinton and Victoria. These villages can house up to 40 volunteers. The Sinton facility will be upgraded to host up to 55 workers because of bunk beds built by a volunteer team and mattresses donated by the North Texas Conference. Villages charge volunteers a minimal charge of $10 per night and offer a bed, access to shower facilities, and access to a commercial kitchen.

The Long Road Ahead

The work can be slow and at times frustrating. But it is essential and important work.

"At first, we may encounter clients in tears of frustration; but as we journey with them we also see clients with tears of joy," said McCuistion. "It is the hope that the volunteer teams bring."

The mission of United Methodist Disaster Response in the Rio Texas Conference is to provide caring Christian presence in the aftermath of a disaster that begins with response and ends with long-term recovery.  We are scheduling volunteer teams now for ERT and rebuilding. You can learn more, register for training, sign up to help, and donate at riotexasresponse.org.