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Neighbors don’t forget neighbors

KAY DeMOSS
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

Nine months ago flood waters rolled over three counties in southeastern Michigan. Today, the Detroit Renaissance District is offering families help and hope through an UMCOR grant and the loving hands of volunteers from across the state of Michigan.  

In January the United Methodist Committee on Relief authorized a bridge grant of $100,000 for the newly developed Northwest Flood Recovery Project. That funding enabled the Rev. Becky Wilson, then serving as the District Director of Mission and Justice Engagement, to assume the additional role of Director of Flood Recovery. An early matter of business was to apply for a second UMCOR grant. In April Becky and the Renaissance District learned that an additional $300,000 was available moving forward.

In the meantime, Second Grace United Methodist Church made space available for the project office which is now open in the Ellison Center. Volunteers from Midland First UMC worked two days to ready the office and also provided a generous contribution toward that renovation. 

Two full-time Disaster Case Managers, Linda Staley and Cheryl Tipton, have been hired and are reaching out to two households that suffered severe water damage last August. Over the course of the project, the Northwest Flood Recovery expects to assist 100 families. The project steering committee is placing priority on homes with elderly members, young children and persons with health risks. “Some persons went through a winter without a furnace,” Becky notes. “We want to make sure those families don’t go through a second winter without heat.”

Next steps involved the hiring of a Construction Coordinator and a Coordinator of Volunteers. The UMCOR grant is covering salaries and benefits. Half the dollars are intended for direct assistance like purchase of sheetrock, drywall, furnaces and whatever is needed to bring homes back to “pre-flood” condition.
 
To date the Northwest Flood Recovery Project is the most large-scale effort aimed at coordinating the rebuild of water-ravaged neighborhoods. “Householders are so excited and grateful that someone is reaching out,” Becky reports. “It is May. The flood was last August. They were feeling forgotten.” Becky goes on to say that, “there is a perception that everybody is OK by now since the flood is no longer in the headlines. Also, the rains came in the middle of the bankruptcy so the effect on homeowners never quite made the public radar.”

“We plan to make the most of summer weather,” Becky continues. “We will partner volunteers with construction teams.” Detroit Calvary UMC is very excited about providing a housing site for volunteers. The United Methodist Union provided money to build beds and renovate showers there.
 
Those individuals and churches wishing to volunteer should contact Becky at email. An open house will be scheduled in June at the Ellison Center.  Please watch for that invitation to learn how to partner in this effort.
 
Becky notes that the focus stretches beyond Northwest Detroit. “The flood helped us all realize that we need to do more in order to be prepared for future disasters,” she remarks. The scope of the disaster preparedness awareness is Area-wide. “We are learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Becky comments, “and future efforts will be stronger because of that.”
 
“I grew up thinking UMCOR came to town when there was a tornado,” Becky recalls. “Now I see them as so much more. UMCOR’s commitment to Detroit is helping local churches and individuals see how the connection really works.” She thanks UMCOR for their remarkable support concluding, “The United Methodist Committee on Relief wants our project and the city to succeed.”  

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