United Methodists give flood survivors hope

11/11/2011

Lloyd Kaufman (right) and Steve Barnum renovate the kitchen at the Williams home in Old Hickory, Tenn. They are part of a Volunteers in Mission team from Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lake Odessa, Mich. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.Lloyd Kaufman (right) and Steve Barnum renovate the kitchen at the Williams home in Old Hickory, Tenn. They are part of a Volunteers in Mission team from Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lake Odessa, Mich. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

As the skies opened and the rain let loose on Friday, April 30, 2010, the Williams family settled in for the night.

The next morning, they awakened to find their furniture and other belongings submerged in raw sewage in their basement. Often, three of the six children, now ages 8 to 18, slept downstairs. Some of the water began climbing upstairs as well.

Although the house is not in a low-lying area, the sewers had backed up. “The fence around the house created a fishbowl,” Erica Williams explained.

“There was water everywhere — nasty sewage. The water clogged the ductwork.” However, that wasn’t all.

“A week or so later,” she said, “the rats came.” They went into the ventilation system. We killed 18 big rats. Then the mold came. Then the bugs came.”

But the family had nowhere to go.

“We had no choice but to stay here,” Williams said. “We kept getting sick. Rats were in our ventilation system, and we heard noises in the walls.” The rats were quick to grab any morsel of food they could find.

The family said the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave them $3,200 and told them they “could just wipe everything down.”

But the mold and other flood residue proved relentless. “We kept taking the kids to the hospital,” Williams recalled.

The family tried to repair the damage themselves, ripping up soaked carpets and removing kitchen cabinets. They paid a “contractor” more than $4,000, and he disappeared with the money.

Erica Williams (right) recalls some of the difficulties her family faced after the flood. At left is her case manager, Elizabeth Neal.Erica Williams (right) recalls some of the difficulties her family faced after the flood. At left is her case manager, Elizabeth Neal.

The situation took a huge emotional toll on the entire family, especially the children.

“Our lives just spiraled out of control,” Williams said.

UMCOR steps in

The Williams family was not alone in its despair. Over that wet weekend in 2010, more than 13 inches of rain fell in Middle Tennessee. The Cumberland River reached nearly 12 feet above flood stage and topped out at 51.9 feet before the waters began to recede. Rescuers, using boats and canoes, plucked hundreds of people from their homes. UMCOR issued an appeal for flood survivors.

Immediately, the United Methodist Committee on Relief gave an emergency grant of $10,000 at the request of the Tennessee Annual (regional) Conference. Since then, UMCOR has awarded two $100,000 grants for meeting survivor needs.

Brandon Hulette directs mercy mission and disaster recovery for the conference. He reported that a large recovery operation continues.

Immediately after the flood, the Tennessee Conference played a key role in organizing and providing technical and financial assistance for 20 long-term recovery committees. It is still involved in home repair in 12 counties.

The conference serves as a central volunteer-coordination center for people of all faiths. Since June 2010, volunteers from 43 denominations have repaired and rebuilt homes in 22 Tennessee counties.

In late October, some of those volunteers went to the Williams home to lay tile downstairs and install cabinets upstairs. Two of them were Lloyd Kaufmann and Steve Barnum.

Kenny Williams (right) helps volunteer Lloyd Kaufman trim a new kitchen countertop at Williams' home. Kenny Williams (right) helps volunteer Lloyd Kaufman
trim a new kitchen countertop at Williams' home.

The retired building-trades teachers are members of Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lake Odessa, Mich. They are no strangers to volunteer work — Kaufmann in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and Barnum at Red Bird Mission in Kentucky.

“Our church tries to do one or two mission trips a year,” Kaufmann said.” One of his favorite quotes is “Grace received is grace to give.”

“God gave me the talents,” he noted. “This is a chance to give back.”

Project manager Barnum switched from teaching to being a school superintendent until his retirement in 2002. “Then,” he said, “I went back to driving nails.”

Meeting people where they are

Hulette anticipates the effort will continue “at a pretty aggressive pace” until March 2012.

The Flood Recovery Network, a conference-led, case-management association, began operation in April 2011. Cases come from seven counties. FRN workers are conference employees, paid by the conference in partnership with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. The FRN, which trained more than 300 volunteer caseworkers in Middle Tennessee, is still accepting new cases.

Case manager Elizabeth Neal has helped the Williams family find resources. “I don’t know what I’d do without (her),” Williams admitted. “She helped me with finances. My income was less than my bills.”

They (the Williamses) have been very active in their own recovery,” said Neal, who manages 16 cases. “Ninety percent of it is knowing whom to call.”

Counseling is an important component of the program. “We may pay for services, including pastoral counseling, marriage and family therapy,” Hulette said. “We plan to keep that program going as long as we have requests for it.”

A construction trailer used to support disaster recovery efforts shows some of the places United Methodist volunteers have been working.A construction trailer used to support disaster recovery
efforts shows some of the places United Methodist
volunteers have been working.

The Williams family continues to benefit from therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Clients can see mental-health professionals up to five years after a disaster, Hulette said. Of the 230 people now receiving counseling, he added, only 12 percent have completed treatment.

“I have a real good therapist,” Williams remarked. “She’s like the best.”

Recently, canvassers from the Flood Recovery Network started knocking on doors in targeted flood-affected areas to identify individuals who, like the Williamses, still have unmet needs. If someone requires assistance, canvassers collect information electronically. Then a case manager contacts the flood survivor to begin developing an individual recovery plan. “We meet people where they are — literally and spiritually,” Hulette said.

With I.D. badges that state “Tennessee Annual Conference,” the canvassers have received a “very positive response,” he added. “People are glad to see someone is checking to make sure no one is falling through the cracks.”

‘This means so much to me’

While Tennessee flood recovery has been under way, five significant tornadoes have come through the area, and the FRN is still working with four of them. “Several folks were hit twice, first by the flood, then by tornadoes,” Hulette said.

“Despite the sustained level of disasters here, we’ve been able to be the body of Christ in the lives of those individuals through the extravagant, generous support of volunteers and donors across the connection.”

The United Methodist program is unique, Hulette said, because it is “comprehensive and holistic,” considers “overall needs” and “tries to see what is not being done, always working with our partners.”

After Williams purchased materials to repair the family home, she worried about accepting help from outsiders. She prayed, “Please don’t let it be those other (dishonest) people.”

However, she had nothing but praise for the United Methodists and other volunteers who have worked with her and her husband, Kenny.

“They’re so good!” she exclaimed.

“If it weren’t for them, it would have cost $6,000 to pay someone to do the work. We saved a lot of money we didn’t even have.”

As of Sept. 30, 2011, the conference had recorded more than 154,880 hours of volunteer labor. “If you were to convert that to paid labor, according to FEMA rates,” Hulette said, “the cost would exceed $3 million. More than 300 teams have done almost everything imaginable.

“Without (their help), this area would not have been able to recover as well as it has.”

“This is my first house,” Williams said of the cute little home she bought six years ago. “I’m so excited. It’s so beautiful.

“This means so much to me.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.