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]

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