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Make a Hands-On Difference: Katrina Volunteers Still Needed

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Today I learned that only one major relief agency is still on the ground rebuilding Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Over 1,100 families are relying on this group to help them rebuild their homes by the end of 2010 -- and anyone over the age of 14 can help!

The same thing is true in Mississippi where the one remaining major relief agency has repaired and rebuilt over 12,000 homes and is now also building new homes. This agency continues to receive 30-40 calls for assistance every two weeks from persons who didn't know that help was still available or were too embarrassed to ask for help until now. It is estimated that volunteers (age 14 and older) will be needed there until at least the end of 2012.

Both of these disaster response groups are funded by UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief). UMCOR is one of the largest relief agencies providing humanitarian aid in the world, yet many people have never heard of its invaluable work in over 100 countries and the United States. This is because UMCOR has a commitment to spend 100% of all donations directly on relief. It does very little advertising. It often partners with 501(c)3 non-profits who are not relief agencies, and provides the funding, case management and organization for overall relief efforts.

In both Louisiana and Mississippi, UMCOR is working with families who don't have enough income to qualify for programs offered by non-profit groups such as Habitat for Humanity. (Habitat has the same income requirements that it had pre-Katrina, and homeowners must re-pay a housing loan.) For both the Mississippi and Louisiana UMCOR programs, families do help build their homes, but no payment of any kind is required, so families remain debt-free. As the Louisiana Executive Director/CEO Darryl Tate says, "We help the least, the last, the lost, and we build partnerships with other organizations that want to help."

The Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Response Ministry is funded by $65 million in donations to UMCOR, with some additional funding from FEMA and the State of Louisiana. This relief agency is currently in the home stretch of its five-year plan to provide permanent housing for families who were uninsured or underinsured during the hurricanes. At this point in time, 1186 families still need major assistance; 225 of those are families in Lake Charles who were severely affected by Hurricane Rita, and 400 are families who need to move out of FEMA trailers. To date, through DRM, 70,220 volunteers from all 50 states and from other countries have provided nearly 3 million hours of labor valuing nearly $55 million to help provide housing for the people of Louisiana. Volunteers are still needed.

The Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Response Center is another UMCOR partner. Other than one state-funded project, DRC is the only relief agency still rebuilding in the six counties that were seriously affected by Hurricane Katrina. Director Robert Sharp says that the interaction with the families they help motivates volunteers to keep coming back. The 160,000 volunteers who have worked with DRC over the past four years have allowed this agency to save over $100 million in labor costs. Volunteers have come from across the United States, and from other countries such as England, Costa Rica, and the Philippines. Baptists, Catholics, and non-denominational Bible churches have sent teams. The non-profit group, International Relief Teams, partners with DRC and sends teams from San Diego every other month to provide professional building assistance.

Anyone can volunteer to help rebuild Louisiana and Mississippi. Corporations and universities have sent groups of volunteers. Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims have come individually and in groups. The average stay is 5 days in Louisiana, and 7 days in Mississippi. As Darryl Tate says, "There is a great need for help. There is work we can only do with volunteers. No person is lacking in skills. We will train people and put them to work!"

In Louisiana, there are enough volunteers for the month of March, but help is needed to reach the goal of housing the 1,186 families by December 31st. In Mississippi, volunteers will be needed from the summer of 2010 until the end of 2012.

To learn more about how you can make a "hands-on" difference, go to:
Louisiana: www.laumcstormrelief.com
Mississippi: www.mississippi-umc.org (click on "Katrina Recovery")
UMCOR: www.umcor.org.