A Closer Look at Project Comeback: Texas

Through “Project Comeback: Texas”, a pilot program specific to the state, five member organizations of National VOAD, along with National VOAD staff, have joined together to implement a disaster case management delivery mechanism that will enable each agency to focus on their areas of expertise while effectively and efficiently responding to the needs of Texans living in 33 of the 41 counties of the Hurricane Harvey declaration area. The five consortium members are helping to build local capacity and implement this with other NVOAD and/or state VOAD members, while National VOAD staff provides support to those efforts.

Carol Flores, National VOAD’s Texas DCMP Grant Director, is tasked with supporting the consortium in the effective and collaborative delivery of disaster case management services. We sat down with Carol to ask a few questions about how Project Comeback and the work that she is doing to help survivors in Texas.

What does Project Comeback:Texas mean to you, as a disaster professional but also as a resident of the state that you are now directly serving?

Project Comeback: Texas, for me, is an opportunity for VOAD partners to lean into what they do best—cooperate, communicate, coordinate and collaborate. This project is the first time that FEMA has funded disaster case management directly to a non-profit entity rather than through a state governmental agency. This one change in lines of accountability has allowed for the creation of a true consortium of multiple agencies working together under a common banner, with shared goals, shared training, and a shared purpose.

Texas has been impacted by repeated federally declared disasters over the last several years. I’m excited for the opportunity to share with Texans the amazing work that VOAD agencies can do when focused on shared goals and outcomes.

What are some initial successes of Project Comeback that come to mind?

The big one is the fact that we have managed to stand up this project by using a shared management structure. For Project Comeback: Texas, no one agency has all of the management pieces – we are managing this massive project by committee! It certainly has its challenges, but it’s been amazing to see what was for so long only words on paper come to life and begin to function.

Early on I had the image of those big parachutes that we used to play with in gym class…you know, the ones that took an entire class of kids to lift up? Project Comeback was like that parachute and it required lots of people lifting all at the same time to get it off the ground. And now it’s off the ground and our case managers are serving Texans every day. I actually look forward to the monthly

reporting time because that’s when we get the chance to see the big picture and read the stories of all of this amazing work.

Where have you been so far in the state? I know you've been traveling a lot to visit with National VOAD members and partners.

Getting out and meeting people in all of the affected communities is one of my favorite parts of this work. And while I haven’t been everywhere yet, I’ve been to both of the far ends of declaration area – from a National Day of Prayer gathering in Sinton, TX before joining a long term recovery meeting to a tiny Baptist church in Port Arthur, TX to facilitate a meeting between local leadership and our DCM partners (and former NVOAD board chair Zach Wolgemuth just happened to also be in town!). I’ve gotten to pop in on a Camp Noah in progress and go dolphin watching with the locals in Rockport. I’ve been asked to represent the program with city and county officials in Houston/Harris County and been reunited with former colleagues from Hurricane Ike response in Galveston County. Being in the communities is where you truly see the power of the four C’s in action and hear the amazingly creative (a 5th C suggestion?) ways communities engage in recovery work.

What lessons are you hoping we can all learn from this process? What can we improve? What are some lessons that you have personally learned in the time you have been working on Project Comeback?

I have been on the inside of a large disaster case management project before (Hurricane Ike in Texas), but I never ceased to be amazed at the thousands of details and questions that need to be answered to pull together a cohesive program. What defines an open case? Who will determine the value of the services our clients are connected to? How do we make sure pay scales are commensurate across multiple agencies? What do we do about the things we didn’t account for in the budget? What do we mean by certain fields in the database? Any one of our agencies can answer any or all of these questions for themselves, but doing so in a way that is consistent across thirteen agencies and 33 counties can sometimes feel overwhelming. The strength of this consortium is that with SO MUCH expertise and deep commitment to doing this work together that the details become just that…details.

National VOAD’s consortium partners in Texas will serve 12,000 households in two years. While there is still a long way to go, the impact of this work is already being felt just few short months in to the program. If you have any questions regarding Project Comeback: Texas, please contact [email protected]

Never Stop Learning: Looking Forward to the 2018 Hurricane Season

As hurricane season 2018 is now upon us, it seems as if organizations and disaster professionals are looking more and more back to the 2017 season to review lessons learned. And why not? The lessons learned from the response to Harvey, Irma, and Maria will last generations. Especially with the release of FEMA’s 2017 Hurricane Season After-Action Report, a fruitful conversation has erupted about the response to an unprecedented series of disasters. While there were many takeaways from the report, the description of the importance of voluntary organizations and National VOAD members to recovery efforts is clear. 

The report makes clear that “there is no easy or one-size-fits all solution” to the problems presented by three massive hurricanes impacting wide swaths of the United States, but that by working together at the federal, state and local level we can immediately improve our response efforts. The after-action report specifically mentions the importance of National VOAD members taking the lead on rebuild and repair efforts across the country. In addition, the work of National VOAD members in the VALOR program was put under a spotlight, as was the coordination and collaboration between National VOAD members and the Crisis Action Planning Team.

Community preparedness continues to be a focus for FEMA, and National VOAD members are a crucial part of that effort. National VOAD members are often operational at the state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) level, which has become a priority for FEMA. This prioritization allows the organization to better assist communities be prepared for ‘rainy-days’.

The lessons learned from 2017 will improve the way that National VOAD members communicate and coordinate with their local, state and federal partners and members. The FEMA after-action report is just one of the many important steps forward that have been taken since the end of the last hurricane season. Realizing that the work that National VOAD members do in communities around the country is crucial to disaster relief and recovery efforts will only allow for our agencies to serve more people in need, at a higher level.

Developing the State VOAD system, and building new tools for our members are both priorities for National VOAD heading into the 2018 hurricane season. These priorities are in direct response to the lessons learned in 2017 and will allow for our members to better prepare communities before disaster, better serve communities during disaster, and provide better relief services to impacted communities after disaster. The disaster cycle is just that, a cycle, because it is continuous. Hurricane season 2017 really underlined that lesson, and showed that we need to continue to strive to do more to prepare communities across the United States and it’s territories for disaster. 

CEO Meanderings

Spring and Summer - two of my favorite seasons! For farmers, it starts with preparing the soil, planting the crops, and tending to them. For Disaster response and recovery people – it is preparing for flooding and hurricanes, potential tornados, and wildfire threats. Training and preparation is key to getting a good result.

Strategic planning is a process that intentionally guides an organization to make determinations on the directions that it wants to go. National VOAD embarked on this journey and began with listening sessions with our members in the Spring. We continued these sessions at the National VOAD Conference and identified three core areas of focus, people self-identified their preferences, and smaller working groups were formed. I hope that you had the opportunity to participate and will continue to add your voice to help articulate the future of National VOAD. We have some additional virtual meetings scheduled and the Board will meet in late August to work with our consultant. The goal is to present a new plan at the Fall Member Meeting in October. Thank you to all member organizations that submitted their Triennial Review documents. Evaluation of the material will be helpful in the strategic planning process.

The Spring presented some opportunities to look at new partnerships with corporations through the Corporate Service Council hosted by Points of Light and UPS. Corporate Foundations are looking to invest financially but also engaging their skills based employees in disaster response and recovery. As you look at your organization – how would you engage employees of corporations in your plans? Do you have capacity and capability? What types of skills would enhance your work?

In the area of new members – I met with a group called the AirCare Alliance – private aviation groups that do medical flights, air damage assessments, animal rescue, and supply drops. In the Hurricane Harvey response many aircraft were utilized to provide an airbridge to the areas of Beaumont and Orange. They were also utilized in Puerto Rico to open up some of the smaller airports for supply drops.

What opportunities could be opened by engaging these highly energized and equipped flight organizations in our disaster work? Legal Services Corporation (LSC) assists with legal aid and pro-bono attorneys for disaster survivors. They have recently formed a Disaster Taskforce and asked NVOAD, Red Cross, SVDP, Catholic Charities, and other nonprofits to participate and look at additional resources needed in the legal response to disasters. How could you utilize attorneys in your work with survivors?

Rolling into Summer – NVOAD has participated in conversations with several State VOADs regarding their organizational structures and how changes to their bylaws and operations might yield better results. We launched the TX Disaster Case Management Program (DCMP) with our members and initiated the use of the new DART technology platform. The Puerto Rico VOAD and National VOAD is facilitating a Summit in July for members with operations in PR – to better facilitate the use of resources in the recovery. There are two recovery documents regarding recovery planning in Puerto Rico that are being completed – one requested by Congress through FEMA and another independently by foundations in PR. We will make them available as they become public record.

Finally – Hurricane season is upon us with Hurricane Beryl and Tropical Storm Chis coming in from the Atlantic. Are your organizations ready for another busy hurricane season? Wild fires are affecting 13 states – can we assist on multiple fronts? Preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation along with cooperation, communication, coordination, and collaboration – THANK YOU for all you do! Please let us know at the National VOAD office how we can continue to assist you!

Conference 2018 Spotlight

2018 National VOAD Board of Directors

Listed below are the 2018-2019 National VOAD Board of Directors! We look forward to working together with the Board and our Members to improve in every phase of the disaster response cycle.


Chair: John Ricketts - Feed the Children

Vice-Chair: Keith Adams - New Jersey VOAD

Secretary: Jenn Dorsch-Messler - Brethren Disaster Ministries

Treasurer: Elizabeth Disco-Shearer - St. Vincent de Paul

Asst. Treasurer: Jay Burdick - Rhode Island VOAD


Jane Aslam - ICNA Relief

Ron Busroe - The Salvation Army

Dan Christopulos - International Orthodox Christian Charities

Cathy Earl - United Methodist Committee on Relief

Jim Kirk - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Warren Miller - Mississippi VOAD

Pastor Michael Stadie - Lutheran Disaster Response


Greg Forrester - National VOAD

Christopher Smith - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

National VOAD Awards

Congratulations to the winners of this year's National VOAD awards! National VOAD would also like to extend our gratitude to our members, partners, and volunteers who, together, make the VOAD Movement a reality.

National Member of the Year: Hope AACR
State VOAD of the Year: Texas VOAD
Partner of the Year: ALAN (American Logistics Aid Network)
Innovative Program of the Year: Tzu Chi USA for the "Turn Trash Into Gold" Program
Spirit Award: Flo Walker Knox of The Salvation Army USA
Volunteer of the Year: David Rauer of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Conference By The Numbers

  • Over 615 Attendees! Our highest attendance ever! 
  • 175 First Time Attendees
  • 10,000 pounds of food packed at the annual service project!
  • 40+ exhibitors and sponsors

Conference Sponsors and Exhibitors

Thank you to our wonderful sponsors! Without the generous donations of our sponsors, Conference, and much of our work throughout the year, would simply not be possible. Below is a list of all of our wonderful sponsors and exhibitors:

  • Adventist Community Service
  • Airbnb
  • American Red Cross
  • Americares
  • Catholic Charities USA
  • Churches of Scientology
  • Commerce Bank
  • Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy
  • Dollar Days International
  • FEMA
  • Friends of Disabled Adults & Children
  • Good360
  • Headwaters Relief Organization
  • IAEM
  • ICNA Relief USA
  • IFOC
  • Islamic Relief USA
  • Kits for Kidz
  • LABX Presented by the National Academy of Science
  • Mennonite Disaster Service
  • OnStar
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
  • Scientology Volunteer Ministers
  • Shelter Box USA
  • St Vincent de Paul USA
  • The Home Depot
  • The Salvation Army
  • Tzu Chi Foundation
  • United Way
  • UPS
  • Uzima Water Filters
  • Verified Volunteers
  • Visionlink, Inc
  • Wal-Mart
  • World Renew

Conference Evaluation

Please take a moment to let us know what you thought of Conference 2018! Click here to fill out a brief survey. Thanks!

Setting the Course for Providence

Over the past 26 years, National VOAD members and partners have assembled at the National VOAD Conference to work on improving our disaster relief and recovery efforts. Quite often, these annual meetings take place after major disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. This year’s Conference in Providence will be no different. In fact, given the scope of current response and recovery efforts, this year’s Conference may be one of the most influential in National VOAD’s history.
That being said, Providence is a natural host for Conference 2018. The long legacy of Providence fishermen braving rough conditions to get the job done should be familiar to National VOAD members, partners and volunteers. (The coffee and donut shops that Providence is famous for should be familiar with our members at the end of the week, as well!)
Hurricane season showed us the importance of the VOAD movement and that if we all set our sails in the same direction, we can make great progress. From Texas to Puerto Rico, National VOAD members worked closely with local and National partners to get the job done, and set the communities they served on a course to recovery.  As the next hurricane season fast approaches, we hope that you use this time in Providence to network and learn new ways you can serve those in need.
We look forward to celebrating this year’s achievements with you! Onwards to Providence!

Top 5 Reasons To Go To Conference

  1. Your best chance to network with leaders in the disaster field.
  2. Providence has the most coffee and donut shops per capita of any city in the country. Need we say more?!
  3. Visit The Big Blue Bug, also known as Nibbles Woodaway, located along I-95 in Providence. Nibbles is the world’s largest artificial bug!
  4. Get to hang out with National VOAD Board Member, Jay Burdick.
  5. History! Providence is teeming with Colonial historical sites.

On the Road

“Not all those who wander are lost” J.R.R. Tolkien

I continue to be amazed at all that our member organizations are engaged in and get accomplished …and I love to get to share those stories with local, state, and federal emergency management and private sector partners. Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of traveling the country and talking to many of you about how we can improve collaboration, and coordination amongst our members. Strengthening the VOAD network is a constant focus for National VOAD, and my experiences in Texas, Florida, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico showed that we are doing just that.

In January, I was invited by Points of Light to share our volunteer engagement experience with the Corporate Service Council (CSC) – a group of corporations that are looking to engage their employees in meaningful ways in communities that have experienced disasters. This was followed by a meeting in Austin, TX to discuss disaster case management with many of our national members (TX VOAD, TX HHS, TDEM, FEMA). We were also joined by representatives from Puerto Rico interested in developing their case management processes for their survivors.

In February, several NVOAD members were invited to give a briefing for senior military staff atNORAD/USNORTHCOM in Colorado Springs and engage in dialogue about military assets working alongside voluntary agencies. The military leadership was particularly impressed at the scope of the capabilities of VOAD members, and your ability to put out quality situation reports. Our ability to seamlessly interact with different branches of government is an asset that we bring to our members and improves our network’s abilities on the ground.

From Texas, I was invited by the Florida VOAD to travel throughout the state to view the damage. I attended the Florida Governor’s Conference for Emergency Management, and met with Ken Skalitzsky from Volunteer Florida. Gabe Tischler of Catholic Charities hosted me for dinner, and Lesli Remaly of FEMA taught me everything I needed to know about local LTRGs. In addition, I had the opportunity to drive from Orlando, to St. Augustine, to Daytona Beach, the full length of the Florida Keys, and then back to Orlando – amazed by the amount and geography of the damage from the storms. These experiences show that a large, multi-layered network of State, National and Government partners is propagating the VOAD movement. Seeing this assures me the VOAD network is resilient and working.

I then traveled on invitation from FEMA to USVI to work with new LTRGs and assist in the reforming of St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John VOAD, and USVI VOAD. I met with our members on the ground – All Hands and Hearts, Lutheran Social Services, Episcopal Relief, Catholic Charities, UCC, and others who are working hard to bring some relief and recovery. Lots of assistance will be needed for many years and I thank the network of VOAD members currently on the ground for their dedicated attention to the needs of survivors.

March was speaking season. I was a panelist for the National Governor’s Association: Office of Best Practices, the National Council of Counties on Volunteer Engagement, and a think tank conversation on preparedness hosted by Concordia/AmeriCares. In addition, I also attended a Red Cross gathering regarding Canadian/Mexican cross border disaster response. Finally, I spoke at the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) forum. Everyone I spoke to at these events is interested in how to better engage with National VOAD members and include all of you in their response and recovery plans. Spreading our message in this way is a vital piece to growth for our association, and I was glad to hear that the National VOAD network is a crucial part of emergency plans across the country.  

Finally, I traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with Puerto Rico VOAD and our members on the ground. While I was there, Puerto Rico VOAD and National VOAD collaborated on a gathering of members working in Puerto Rico to create relationships between local member organizations and national member groups. Promoting collaboration and communication on this level can be crucial to improving relief efforts and National VOAD is excited to play a part. During my time in Puerto Rico, National VOAD had exciting discussions surrounding building relationships for recovery with FEMA, the PR Manufacturers Association, PR Governor’s Office, PR Chaplain’s Association, and the PR Housing Authority!

There is no place that you are not welcome or needed! Please let me know how we can help get you connected…the work you do with survivors sets the foundation of everything we do. Thank you for the continued opportunity to make the 4C’s connect your capabilities to those in need.

Tzu Chi Foundation in Puerto Rico (VOAD Vision)

Upon arriving in Yabucoa, ground zero for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, we were taken back by the municipality’s somber beauty, as if this coastal valley and its people had been forgotten. Homes and public buildings were left in devastated ruins with plastic bottle waste polluting the beautiful scenery; the community looked empty and abandoned.

“It seemed like a bomb fell on us and destroyed everything, everything, everything,” Luis Colon, a police officer and resident of Yabucoa, said.

This sentiment of feeling forgotten is one that is shared by Puerto Ricans throughout the state. A third of Puerto Ricans are still without power and electricity, and with lack of access to clean water as a major issue, bottled water is the main source of water. With Puerto Rico’s very limited landfill capacity, you would, as Phillip Shaw of FEMA states, “imagine the risk of developing a disaster within a disaster.”

Puerto Ricans, however, have voiced their desire for sustainable and renewable energy such as solar and wind, for projects that reduce plastic bottle waste in their state, and for partnership and education programs that are localized and community-based.

As Tzu Chi volunteers, we believe change starts from the self, from the individual. Collaborating with FEMA, other disaster response agencies, schools, civil societies and the local municipal government, the organization is, in addition to providing emergency cash assistance, solar technology, and food and non-food items, developing education and environmental protection programs to combat the issue of plastic bottle waste. Using the “Trash into Gold” concept and program, where plastic bottles are converted into blankets and other products that help with recovery efforts, Tzu Chi plans on developing an on-line curriculum that can be used to change behavior through education and technical expertise.

The organization’s environmental protection concept “works on the premise that people can protect the environment by the choices they make and their behavior as individuals by living a simpler life style and reducing carbon footprint is crucial towards living in harmony with Mother Earth,” as David Meyers of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and previous director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives states.

Tzu Chi will continue to work with our partners and the local populations on the ground for the long haul, rebuilding, setting up schools and water supply, offering free clinics, and more. “We cannot do everything alone, we have to work with our partners,” Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of Tzu Chi USA, said in an interview.