Needs linger in S. Florida

South Florida residents are still recovering from last season's Hurricane Wilma - and they need more help, according to local responders.

BY SUSAN KIM | CLEWISTON, Fla. | July 7, 2006



"A large portion of the population is migrant workers who are a little bit afraid of applying for any formal aid."

—Trish Adams


South Florida residents are still recovering from last season's Hurricane Wilma - and they need more help, according to local responders.

Eight months after the hurricane hit South Florida, one local long-term recovery group - Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce Inc. (CREW) - has a growing caseload in south-central Florida.

"We have 654 clients total," said Trish Adams, CREW executive director. "We have closed 50 cases."

Nearly every client is coping with damage from Wilma, Adams explained. "We've had maybe five or six cases that had damage from previous storms."

Small but energetic CREW has four staff - and seeks additional grant money and supplies.

CREW needs Spanish-speaking volunteers or funds for Spanish-speaking staff, said Adams.

The nonprofit also needs drills, ladders, up-to-date computers, desks, a file cabinet that can be locked, a truck, concrete mix, drywall, plywood, stationery, gas cards, food or housing and other supplies for visiting volunteers, skilled labor, office help, and shirts to identify CREW staff.

Sometimes it's hard to find resources in the rural area where CREW is headquartered, reflected Adams. "We are in a very rural area. There are no malls. We have maybe one Wal-Mart for both counties."

Most people make their living from farming citrus and sugar, she said, and some people raise cattle as well. "A large portion of the population is migrant workers who are a little bit afraid of applying for any formal aid. The language barrier is a big issue. We try to hire people that either have lived in the community for a long time or are born and raised here," said Adams.

Local churches as well as national faith-based disaster response groups - including Church World Service - have supported the creation of CREW, Adams said, and so has the City of Clewiston. CREW's biggest funder currently is the United Way. Concerned individuals, local restaurants and a workforce development grant have also helped the process.

CREW began as a church-based effort in Clewiston, home to about 7,000 people.

In the wake of Hurricane Wilma, the First United Methodist Church in Clewiston began coordinating volunteers. Although First United Methodist Church was instrumental in getting CREW started with office support and financial support, the entire local ministerial association also lent its support. The United Methodist Committee On Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance have provided financial support that largely covers the cost of the salaries. Local churches of all faiths have provided housing and food.

"We have amazed some of our volunteer groups and how well our local churches work together for the betterment of our community," said Adams.

In January, CREW launched as a nonprofit that grew out of this original effort. CREW leaders are extending long-term recovery in the wake of Hurricane Wilma - and are emphasizing preparedness for future disasters as well.

Volunteer teams coordinated through CREW have repaired homes and lifted the spirits of dozens of hurricane survivors. "This is some of the hardest work I've ever done - but I love it," said Adams.


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