MD churches, AmeriCorps link

The classrooms would normally be quiet at the Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church.


"It's hard for some pastors to realize that they're allowed to grieve."

—Andrea King

During a normal week, the classrooms would be quiet at the Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baltimore. But a little over a week ago, the Hurricane Isabel recovery process got some extra help and made one of those classrooms busier than your average office.

A team of nine disaster-certified members of AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is now helping the Maryland Interfaith Recovery Team (MIRT) with their heavy load of casework.

"We are very enthusiastic about having NCCC here," said Rev. Andrea King, Disaster Recovery Manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and member of MIRT. "They are well-trained and have a good understanding of what needs to happen."

UMCOR is spearheading the case management work for those affected by Hurricane Isabel. King said before NCCC stepped in, there were only three people working on the 1,300 requests for assistance. "It's great to have more help," she said. "Those three people had just been working themselves silly before-hand."

The American Red Cross told MIRT about NCCC, said AmeriCorps Community Relations Specialist Monica Davis. "Many organizations don't know NCCC is available to help," said Davis. She said that when the NCCC was mentioned during a MIRT meeting, faces lit up.

King said relief has moved slowly up to this point. She and the NCCC team members agreed that frustration among the applicants is evident.

"Working with 1,300 applicants was hard with only three people, so their frustration is understandable," said King. "Thank God for those caseworkers we ask them to do so much. And fortunately now we have AmeriCorps helping us accelerate the process."

Right now, the NCCC team members are organizing all the casework in the classroom-turned-office. "It was a bit of a rocky start, as we had to build an organizational system from the ground up for all this paper," said Erina Dina, NCCC team member. "But I think it's going well now."

With all the paperwork finally getting organized, NCCC Team Leader Kari Smith said members of her team can now focus on hitting the street to do some damage assessment and talk to people who still need assistance.

"We're mostly doing referrals for people who've already gone through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)," said Smith. Her team will stay until April 16, when another NCCC team will come in to take over.

King said that she was surprised more churches and agencies from across Maryland didn't help. "(MIRT) expected more people to be on board this recovery process in the beginning," she said. "Yet many people around the state weren't directly affected by the hurricane, so they didn't help and most are surprised that hurricane recovery is still happening."

According to King, MIRT expects to be operating for one to three years. She expects the casework to last from 10-18 months. All the work can takes it toll on those responding.

"I think it's easy for us to get caught up emotionally in what's going on here," said King, who also serves as pastor for John Wesley United Methodist Church in Clarksburg. "We have to remember to not own the cases, because then you wouldn't be able to help. It becomes paralyzing."

She said MIRT also wants to help pastors in the hurricane-affected areas be able to work successfully. "It's hard for some pastors to realize that they're allowed to grieve," said King. "We try to keep tabs on each other. If we're not taking care of ourselves, then we can't take care of others."

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