A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
In 2001 the United Methodist Committee on Relief established a “listening post” at John Street United Methodist Church just blocks from ground zero. A banner expressing support hangs outside the church. A UMNS 2001 file photo by John C. Goodwin
As a professional case manager, Catherine Earl does not routinely keep in touch with former clients she has assisted through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
During the last decade, however, she heard from a few who wanted to express their gratitude for the agency’s assistance after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
She is happy to report that one person, who literally had been living under a bridge after the tragedy, “now is quite self-sufficient.”
That doesn’t surprise her.
“Some of these families would have found their (own) way,” said Earl about the hundreds who benefited from the Healing, Encouragement and Advocacy in Response to Tragedy unit established by the denomination’s Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference. “But there were so many people in crisis who not only needed the resources themselves but also needed someone to partner with them.
“I’m very confident that because of the generosity of the people who gave to UMCOR… a lot of people did, in fact, benefit and maybe recovered faster and in some cases, better,” she added.
United Methodists donated $20.8 million to a fund — aptly named “Love in the Midst of Tragedy” — designed to create a response across the denomination to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The scope and nature of the events, along with the large amount of resources available, made this a very different type of disaster for the relief agency. Instead of rebuilding homes and communities, UMCOR would help some of the survivors and secondary victims of 9/11 deal with both psychological wounds and economic needs as they reassembled their lives.
After the 2001 attack, UMCOR 9/11 Disaster Response caseworkers including Jenny Crystal (right) helped many victims. Crystal talks with Yuk Fan Chan who turned to the church for help. A UMNS 2004 file photo by John C. Goodwin.
The high level of donations also allowed the church to improve disaster response training across the denomination, encourage participation in interfaith relations, advocate on behalf of immigrants and address humanitarian needs in Afghanistan.
Practical lessons learned through “Love in the Midst of Tragedy” helped UMCOR expand its capabilities in ways that became apparent in the denomination’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The agency developed its first case management manual in the late 1990s, based on its experiences with floods in Fargo, N.D., and the Upper Midwest, explained the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, the executive in charge of U.S. disaster relief.
In a practical way, the denomination’s Sept. 11 recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey “really helped us define and understand how case management works,” he said.
Learning how to disburse significant funds from donors during the 9/11 recovery also allowed UMCOR to organize more quickly after Hurricane Katrina hit. “We were able to immediately have conversations with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) about how to handle large quantities of families who were in need,” Hazelwood said.
In fact, UMCOR’s response to Katrina was “unprecedented,” in Earl’s opinion. Never had a million people been displaced in the United States before, she pointed out, and never before had the denomination had national mechanisms for its response, through both the annual conferences and the government-funded Katrina Aid Today, which Earl joined in January 2006.
Part of the Greater New Jersey 9/11 response team, called HEART (Healing, Encouragement and Advocacy in Response to Tragedy), included (from left) front – Natalie Sosanya, Sally Rogers and Cathy Earl and back - Claire Chichester and Chang Cha. A UMNS web-only photo courtesy of Cathy Earl.
UMCOR and its collaborating partners — Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, other denominational relief agencies and Red Cross— now understand the need to work more closely together on large disasters and have devised language, forms and systems that “are increasingly standardized,” she said.
The bulk of the Love in the Midst of Tragedy fund — more than $14 million — was spent on recovery programs for people in the areas directly affected by the terrorist attacks.
Distributions allotted to the church’s annual (regional) conferences included $4.5 million to New Jersey, $1.1 million to Virginia and nearly $2.6 million to New York. In addition, UMCOR invested nearly $5 million in its own case management program for New Yorkers.
Hazelwood is proud that the programs run by UMCOR and the annual conferences focused on “the forgotten people” of 9/11.
Those people included taxi drivers and airline workers in New York, undocumented immigrants from New Jersey who cleaned the offices of the World Trade Center and the homeless and unemployed workers along the Route One corridor in Virginia near the Pentagon.
In New York, UMCOR’s 9/11 program directly assisted 5,346 individuals and their families — about 26,000 in total — many of whom suffered from post-traumatic stress. About 60 percent were undocumented immigrants without health insurance or other benefits. Referrals to food pantries, legal assistance and medical and mental health care were provided to another 2,000 people.
The New York Conference’s own response helped organize, train and fund local church members for recovery ministries, said the Rev. Charles “Chick” Straut, the program administrator.
Eighty-seven grants were given to local church projects ranging from after-school programs to interfaith dialogues to pastoral support. “We were of more help to the people who weren’t recognized as victims so easily, who didn’t qualify for government aid,” he said.
With other faith groups, the New York Conference and UMCOR were key partners in the formation of New York Disaster Interfaith Services as a way to address jointly the recovery needs. The organization still exists in a scaled-back form today.
In New Jersey, the conference’s HEART program focused on families who were suffering economic loss but had no assistance. Clients would stay in system until they became self-sufficient, learning to live on less money and to become re-employed.
“When we got boots on the ground,” said the Rev. Christopher Miller, who led the program for three years, “we saw the gap in people responding to those who had basically lost jobs and income but had not seriously been injured or lost a loved one.”
As part of the rebuilding at ground zero, the new 1 World Trade Tower was under construction in August 2011. Donations also allowed the denomination to help rebuild the lives of those affected by 9/11. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.
The average client received $5,657 in direct assistance. The vast majority were “so appreciative” to have someone help them sort through their options and provide assistance when a crisis or immediate needs arose, said Earl, who was a HEART case manager.
Some clients were referred to mental health providers, but much of the stress was understandable under the circumstances. “Anxiety about being evicted is very real,” she noted. “It’s not something a pill is going to help you with.”
To avoid duplicating relief efforts, HEART coordinated with other agencies, such as Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Case managers from the various groups called to discuss the needs of their clients and sometimes swapped resources.
Maintaining a balanced approach was important. “I think our staff did a really great job of managing a genuine sense of care-giving while not being overwhelmed by those needs,” Earl said.
The HEART program handled 522 cases before it closed in 2006, making it one of the longest-running 9/11-related programs in the state. Now, Miller believes, the New Jersey Conference has “the confidence that they can take on something of this kind of magnitude and do it well.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe