50 Years of Cooperation

As we move toward Conference 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona, National VOAD will be celebrating our guiding principles: the 4 Cs. Communication, Coordination, Collaboration and Cooperation have been at the center of what National VOAD Members and Partners have done over the last 50 years, and we will be exploring just what that has looked like in the past, and evolved into in the future. You can share your 4 C stories with us here on the 50th anniversary website.

The next ‘C’ that we will be celebrating is Cooperation. Always at the center of what we do, the past few months have shown the ability of National VOAD members and partners to effectively cooperate to achieve their goals, and improve the lives of survivors.

This winter, National VOAD organized a meeting of Midwest VOADs to come together to cooperate to achieve shared goals and share best practices. The Capacity & Capability Project for State/Territory VOADs kicked off in Omaha, February 6th. The meeting set out to convene leadership from the Midwest Region to discuss the results of an initial information gathering survey and interview completed by participants in the months preceding the in-person gathering and offered opportunities for State VOAD leadership to engage in thoughtful and intentional strategy building, capacity building and resource discussion. This meeting also included a discussion on how to cooperate to reach capacity goals for the region.

Here is what a few of the attendees had to say about their experience:

This was my first Regional meeting.  I was very impressed with the information presented and how it could help us in Minnesota as we are working towards a hiring of an Executive Director. The planning, sounding out and brainstorming helped us to see how we’d be able to utilizing funding.  It was very worthwhile and I highly recommend attending a meeting in your region.

Ryc Lyden
Minnesota VOAD

The meeting was extremely valuable to me. As a relatively new chair, I appreciated meeting and interacting with the leaders of other state VOADs, exchanging ideas, and hearing about their challenges and successes. I look forward to continuing the connection and conversation with the state VOADs in the future.  

Lisa Ashby
Nebraska VOAD

Cooperation has always been a vitally important part of the National VOAD experience, and will continue to be through our next 50 years. National VOAD will continue to promote cooperation through similar gatherings and efforts throughout the Capacity & Capability Project for State/Territory VOADs. If you wish to learn more about this project or discuss ways to further cooperate with your neighboring State/Territory VOADs, contact April Dembeck, [email protected]

Building Hope Meadows, Texas

“We’re really ecstatic about this new home”

Pete Villarreal—along with his wife, 9-year-old son, and 7-year-old daughter—is among the homeowners moving into Hope Meadows, a new 40-home subdivision in Victoria County, Texas.

“We’re really ecstatic about this new home,” says Villarreal, who works as a materials coordinator in the pipeline industry.

He’s already met a few of his future neighbors, and has also been lending a hand, helping volunteers who are working on his home. “We’ve gone out there to help the volunteers because we like to put a face with the home,” he says.

Villarreal and his family are an integral part of a collaboration that, more than two years after Hurricane Harvey struck, is bringing a sense of hope and belonging to storm survivors who lost everything.

When Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Executive Director Kevin King met Victoria County Commissioner Danny Garcia, King noted that Garcia looked like he hadn’t slept in two weeks. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Can you help my people?’ When a neighbor is in need, we go help them,” says King.

On the 23-acre piece of land, another 10 homes will be dedicated on April 20. What King describes as “a spark coming alive” has been witnessed in the organizations that collaborated to make Hope Meadows a reality.

The Rebuild Texas Fund donated $1.4 million to MDS for work on 20 homes. Other National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster partners were “all in” from the very beginning as well. In fact, the project is a collaboration between MDS, Victoria Long-Term Recovery Group, Samaritan’s Purse, Disaster Aid Ohio, and Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity. Support also came from the Rebuild Texas Fund, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Cristina Cornejo, program manager for the Rebuild Texas Fund, says that no one organization at the table in Texas has worked in a vacuum. “What was eyeopening for me is that MDS and the other organizations were not just fantastic grantees but great collaborative partners. It was really equitable and honest.”

That collaboration has been so effective because everyone involved has been willing to put the needs of the people and the community first, ahead of any other concerns, reflected Sally Ray, director of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund. “From the beginning, the organizations involved knew that, to pull this off, we all needed to open our hearts and our minds and come to the table recognizing that it would take all of us working together to be successful here,” she says. “One or two organizations would not have been able to do something of this magnitude; instead it’s taken a crew of us working together to help Bloomington build its resilience.”

It’s not uncommon to involve multiple partners in a disaster recovery effort, but Hope Meadows has been particularly exemplary, says Vicki McCuistion, disaster recovery asset manager for UMCOR. “Hope Meadows has been a successful partnership because the leadership of the Victoria County Disaster Recovery Group has been thoughtful and collaborative and the multiple partners they brought together have put the needs of the survivors first.”

Brent Graybeal, director, US Recovery & Development (North American Ministries) for Samaritan’s Purse, expressed thanks for the opportunity to help more deserving families return home after they lost so much in Hurricane Harvey. “During the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in September, many of these organizations praised the Lord for the opportunity to be a part of something so important to the Victoria County community,” he says.

Such exemplary collaboration has, in the end, real winners: the homeowners, and the future of the larger community.

Villarreal said he continues to focus on the good things that happen. “To my core, I believe God takes care of you. I believe He helps us through other people. I’m only a tool to help other people.”

Villarreal added that someday he wants to volunteer for MDS and help build a home besides his own. “I keep getting blessed. So I feel like I need to do more,” he says.

Susan Kim, MDS

Collaboration for a Happy Ending

Project Comeback: TEXAS is stronger from collaborations that happen across the region on behalf of families who are still recovering from Harvey.  In this case, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas linked arms with Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan’s Purse and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) Homeowner Assistance Program to bring a client back to wholeness.

We’ll call our client “Joe.”  During Hurricane Harvey, Joe’s home received only a few inches of water, but there was a nasty wrinkle: the water was heavily contaminated with raw sewage from a nearby malfunctioning city sewage pump.  After discarding the carpeting and his furniture, Joe found multiple cracks in the foundation.  Habitat for Humanity agreed to provide repair.  Joe stayed with a family member for a period of time, and moved home before Habitat was completed, because he “just wanted to be home,” even if it meant sleeping on an air mattress in an empty room.

As Joe moved back into his home, Habitat discovered that the problem was worse than expected.  As it turns out, sewage had been leaking into a pocket below the foundation – a problem that goes beyond what Habitat can normally handle.

Joe submitted an application to the GLO’s “Homeowner Assistance Program” and was approved for a complete demolition and rebuild, which solved two issues at once.  The rebuild eliminated the leakage problem while raising the home two feet on piers, to elevate above Harvey flood water levels.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas was involved at various stages throughout the process, replacing appliances and furniture for a bedroom, as well as the living and dining rooms.  In addition, CCST provided rental and moving/storage assistance.  Samaritan’s Purse replaced furniture in a second bedroom.

Epilogue: Joe is back in a new home, built from the ground up.  And the air smells sweet, at last.

(Contributed by Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas)

After a Harrowing Escape, a Home Restored

Ruth and Clint Payne retired early and settled into life in their house tucked away in a bend of Dickinson Bayou.  In August 2017, the Paynes and their son Nicholas prepared to ride out Hurricane Harvey with their Australian Shepherds: seven dogs including five puppies.  Thinking they could always make a getaway in their four-wheel drive vehicle, they were surprised when floodwater pushed up the driveway.  “The water came up so fast, it was too late to get out,” said Clint.

As Harvey’s rain filled their neighborhood, the Paynes secured the dogs in kennels and placed them up in the attic to stay dry, then climbed up to join the dogs for the night, while water filled their home below.  In the morning, Clint somehow was able to swim through the water to find a ladder they used to climb onto their neighbor’s roof, where they waited for a boat to rescue them.  Later, family members boated back in to rescue the dogs.

Everything in their home was destroyed.  The Paynes had homeowner’s insurance, but it didn’t cover the damage and the FEMA money only went so far.  “We went through all of our savings,” said Clint.  Then, the Paynes heard about Catholic Charities’ Disaster Recovery Program.

Catholic Charities provided funding for final restoration work to be done in partnership with Fuller Disaster Rebuilders, which sends teams of volunteers around the country to help communities following disasters like Harvey.  In addition, Catholic Charities provided furniture so the Paynes can get their household back to normal.

(Contributed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston)

A Backpack Brings Joy…and Other Good News

Mary* faced the new school year with dread.  A single mom, Mary had lost everything when Harvey destroyed her apartment in Orange – furniture, appliances, household goods.  The most precious things survived: Mary’s three kids – two teenagers and an 11-year-old daughter.  They had just moved into a new apartment and Mary was barely keeping the family afloat, while coping with having no vehicle to run essential errands.  The prospect of buying everything needed to get the kids ready for school created tremendous stress for Mary.  The stress lightened when Mary was connected to a disaster case manager with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, who arranged for a private donation of three backpacks.  The simple gift brought so much joy that one of the girls started skipping down the driveway, so proud of her new backpack.

(Contributed by SVdP)

Will*, a disabled, retired Vietnam Veteran who lives in Freeport, lost all his belongings when his mobile home took on more than 6 inches of water from Harvey.  To make matters worse, the shed outside of his home, where he operated a small repair shop for oil rig equipment, was completely destroyed.  This was a major blow.  Will depended on the money to supplement his small social security income.

After several months waiting for assistance, Will was able to get his residence cleaned out and repaired, and even received help replacing many of the water-damaged personal items.  However, there appeared to be no way to assist with rebuilding the shed or removing the heavy equipment that was kept in it.  To make matters worse, the city had issued a citation, pressuring Will to get the place cleaned up, which triggered severe anxiety attacks.

The disaster case manager with The Alliance found a creative way to help by approaching the Houston-Galveston Sector of the US Coast Guard for volunteer assistance.  The Coast Guard group identified the nearest location of a large metal shredder, brought several pickup trucks, loaded the water damaged equipment and took it to the metal recycling center.  Then, the group spent the entire day cleaning up around the client’s home.  With the assistance of another volunteer, the client’s shed is being rebuilt with supplies and materials donated through the volunteer groups.

Will was grateful and delighted to share his war stories throughout the day with the group of service members.  He took his case manager’s business card to the city to show them how people who knew nothing about him, came to his rescue.

(Contributed by The Alliance)

Heartfelt Thanks From a Client

A note of thanks from someone who needed help, and received it, thanks to the work of a member of the Project Comeback: TEXAS consortium.  Congratulations to HOPE Disaster Response for providing caring, noteworthy help to the Harvey survivor.

“I just wanted to take a moment and send a quick note of thanks to you and your organization.  In a day where few voice nothing but complaints I wanted to take a moment to compliment your representative, Ms. Pamela Hawkins.

I am a Harvey flood SURVIVOR.  I took on some 20 inches in my house.  It has been a long and difficult road to recovery.  Recently I was made aware of your assistance program and thankfully I am a recipient of funding.  It was during the process that I had the pleasure of being assigned to Ms. Hawkins.  Professional, compassionate and responsive would be the words I would use to best describe my new friend Pamela.  Try as I do to be positive, times have become difficult as a result of the storm.  Ms. Hawkins, with compassion walked me through the process and assured me all will be good.

You are most fortunate to have Ms. Hawkins as a team member.  Thank you again for the assistance from your organization.

God Bless,

(Contributed by HOPE Disaster Response)