NAILS provides long-term miracles

BY SUSAN KIM | CUMBERLAND, Md. | January 19, 1999


CUMBERLAND, Md. (Jan. 19, 1999) -- The storms may be long-gone, but the

miracles of long-term recovery are still flooding western Maryland.

After enduring minor flooding in 1995, major flooding from snowmelt in

January 1996, devastating Hurricane Fran-related floods in September 1996,

and freakish

tornadoes last summer, residents have come to count on a guardian angel in the

form of a long-term interfaith recovery organization called NAILS.

NAILS oversees home repair jobs that may seem small -- but dramatically improve

the lives of homeowners. This week, NAILS, based in Cumberland, Md., is

overseeing electrical rewiring for the home of an elderly woman who can't turn

on more than two appliances without blowing a breaker.

The list goes on: repairing a roof for a man with an income of $90.45 a month;

replacing the stove of an 86-year-old man who was down to one-and-a-half

burners; installing insulation in the home of a woman who was shoving

bread bags into the door frame to keep out the cold; and building an access

ramp for a disabled woman who hadn't been out of her house without the aid

of a

rescue squad in seven years.

And don't forget making homes -- and homeowners -- less vulnerable the next

time around.

Last year alone, NAILS clocked more than 5,000 interfaith volunteer hours.

Since it began the fall of 1996, NAILS has completed 28 major home repair

projects, is working on 25 current ones, has referred 20 more to appropriate

agencies, and has had contact with more than 150 homeowners.

How does NAILS -- which is simply the name of the group and not an acronym --

do it? The group's history shows how a faith-based organization can access

federal funding to help meet even more needs within a community.

After Hurricane Fran-related floods in the fall of 1996, Presbyterian Disaster

Assistance made a relief grant to the Baltimore Presbytery to hire two flood

relief advocates and Sharon Kazary, now program director of

NAILS, to conduct a study seeking avenues for long-term response.

In the towns dotting the stretch of Appalachian Mountains in western Maryland,

many people work as coalminers, as small business owners, and as staff in

factories and hospitals. In her study, Kazary quickly found a unique

population of disaster survivors in need: homeowners, particularly the

elderly or disabled.

"Many people in this area own small homes, and they're comfortable living with

incomes under $800 a month -- that is, until a flood or tornado causes major

damage. I discovered that there was no group dedicated to helping them," she

said.

At the same time, the First Presbyterian Church of Cumberland was searching

for a significant mission project that would have a major impact on the

community. "Too often we do mission work with our leftover efforts and

leftover dollars. We wanted to do something that answered an important need

and really touched people's lives," said the Rev. Dr. O. Morton Harris, Jr.,

pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Cumberland.

And NAILS was born. "Our mission is to help people stay in their homes as

comfortably and as long as possible," said Kazary. Since then, NAILS has

received a grant through the City of Cumberland, and also from Allegany County

through a unique partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's

(FEMA) Project Impact, an initiative that helps communities become "disaster

resistant."

The Cumberland area is one of seven Project Impact pilot communities

nationwide, and FEMA aims to develop at least one disaster resistant community

in every state.

For residents in western Maryland, becoming disaster resistant means taking

such measures as elevating furnaces and electrical boxes, installing tile

rather than carpet, and making sure walls and foundations can withstand the

next round of water.

That's where NAILS comes in. "We went to help a woman in her 70s who had lost

her whole basement to the flood. We rebuilt the back wall, fixed the roof, and

moved her furnace up to the first floor. That's where we got the idea that

raising appliances really fit FEMA's goals with Project Impact."

NAILS became a faith-based organization able to access FEMA funds, Kazary

said, "because only the churches could get the job done in this case. This is

a tight-knit community, and churches are where things happen. I lived in

Cumberland for 22 years myself, and I've interviewed every homeowner we've

helped."

NAILS has also attracted financial and volunteer support from other

denominations including United Methodists, Lutherans, Church of the Brethren,

Catholics, and the Jewish community.

Kazary -- a commercial real estate developer -- has put her knowledge of

building techniques and her relationship with local organizations and

businesses to work for NAILS. At a Rotary Club meeting, most of the 200

businesspeople in the room know Kazary -- and many have contributed funds,

promotional support, in-kind services, materials, and just plain advice to

NAILS.

As NAILS' major grants come to an end, Kazary plans to seek other grants as

well as inter-denominational funds. If she's successful, NAILS will help

homeowners in western Maryland for another year at least. The need is still

there: "I have 48 additional homeowners waiting for me to see them," she said.

If not, Kazary said she will still be satisfied with the impact NAILS has had.

"You can't solve all the problems. Sometimes I want to and I can't. For

example, I can't make a disabled woman walk, but I can help her stay in her

home so she has a better life."

Posted Jan. 19, 1999


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