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East FL eyes unmet needs

The hurricane recovery process in Volusia County, Fla., could take from three to five years, according to some disaster responders.

BY HEATHER MOYER | VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. | November 4, 2004

"Some houses that people are still living in right now are also not safe."

—Karen Thompson

The hurricane recovery process in Volusia County, Fla., could take from three to five years, according to some disaster responders.

Three hurricanes roared through the area in two months, and responders are working hard to address the needs of affected families.

"We're still trying to get a handle on what the biggest needs are right now, but things are coming together pretty well," said Dave Troxler, president of Volusia County Interfaith Networking in Disaster (VIND).

VIND has been in existence for three years, putting it, as Troxler said, "ahead of the game" as far other counties' recovery efforts are concerned. But the VIND coalition is still building. Last Thursday, VIND held a meeting that included many other area agencies like the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, Lutheran Disaster Response, the United Church of Christ (UCC), area churches, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and various county representatives.

"What we did determine is that some of the most pressing needs right now are helping the elderly and making sure people fill out their (FEMA) assistance forms," explained Troxler, who also pastors First Christian Church (Disciple of Christ) of Daytona Beach. "We also discussed having town meetings around the county to explain the importance of filling out the forms."

Cherry Smith, development director for the Council on Aging for Volusia, has been an active participant in the hurricane recovery with VIND. A certified state emergency manager, Smith was activated to work for the state from August 13 through September 30. Since then, she's returned to her job with the Council on Aging.

She agreed that the aid application process can be very confusing for many senior citizens. "Many of them don't understand how FEMA works or how their own insurance works, so we're trying to help - and FEMA's been doing a great job of helping them as well."

The Council on Aging is helping its clients handle deductible payments, rent payments, and also debris cleanup. Smith added that the agency is also referring her clients to other organizations that can help them.

The recovery process is now shifting its focus to the long-term, with Smith saying her role in VIND is to be the voice of the seniors. Fortunately, she said, her clients seem to be in decent spirits. "They're handling things pretty well. There is some frustration, but overall they're pretty resilient."

Another voice in VIND is that of Karen Thompson, pastor of New Hope UCC in DeLand. Thompson is also the office case manager for the UCC's Florida Conference in Volusia, Flagler, and Seminole Counties. "Our focus is on meeting the unmet needs. We want to help those with a gap in services, a gap between what they need and what they have," said Thompson.

Thompson also sees frustration coming to the surface in many of the people she's been assisting. "There is a need for counseling. People are dealing with the stress of three hurricanes here. We may not have the damage that other areas do, but just being in the middle of all that and having to evacuate three times - it wears on people.

"And the uncertainty of everything right now, there is a level of fear that comes with the uncertainty."

She added that another major issue right now for affected families is housing. "Some houses that people are still living in right now are also not safe."

In response, not only is Thompson continuing the UCC Florida conference's move to hold educational meetings for residents about how the UCC can help, but her church is also going to be home to several of the donated trailers the conference received to house incoming volunteers.

"Our church members are very excited about this. We want to be a viable witness as far as justice efforts are concerned, so we saw this as another way to help. It's so exciting to watch people be motivated and responsive."

The coalition of VIND is something Thompson said she is happy to be part of. "It is a genuine pooling of resources and effort to make sure people have what they need. That's what we want to do, provide the families with anything they need - whether it's physical or emotional - just to get them back to normal again."

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