Needs great in NY

Flooding destroyed more than 900 homes and caused major damage to 2,000 others in Broome County, N.Y., one month ago.

BY HEATHER MOYER | CONKLIN, N.Y. | July 27, 2006

Flooding destroyed more than 900 homes and caused major damage to 2,000 others in Broome County, N.Y., one month ago.

Responders say the community has become more united in the face of those numbers.

"This has really brought us all together," said Greg Jenkins, director of flood relief operations at Conklin Presbyterian Church.

Conklin Presbyterian is serving as disaster relief central in the hard-hit Conklin area. Volunteers serve 300 to 500 meals each day in the fellowship hall. Others staff the rooms full of donated food and supplies for anyone to take with them. And still others head out into the neighborhoods to shovel away mud and pull up drenched floor boards.

Jenkins said he is amazed by the work being done around Conklin, and that people from near and far are helping. "We've probably had 800 to 900 volunteers come through here," he said, adding, "and it's all been very interdenominational, too."

He's not surprised that his church is so active in the flood recovery, saying the church has always been one to meet needs whenever they arise. Yet just how well everything is running is something that floors him. "So many little miracles have been happening around here."

That's a welcome change from the trauma experienced by the town the day the flood hit. Conklin residents had a flood warning, explained Jenkins, but no one thought it would get so bad.

"We never thought this would happen, we had about 12 feet of water running through town," explained Jenkins. "It came up so fast that people didn't have time to get out. Many had to be evacuated by helicopters. I've never seen it like that before."

Jenkins said he hopes the recovery continues to run as smoothly as possible for the sake of the affected families. A month after the flood, many are now very stressed, strained and frustrated. Many thought they could beat this, said Jenkins, but now they're starting to feel the pressure.

"Many people are too proud to ask for help, too," he added. To counteract that, Jenkins and his fellow volunteers have made up special flyers advertising their free help with phrases such as, "If you can't do this on your own, let us help!"

The meal times at Conklin Presbyterian allow the families to relax. All the help offered to families is no strings attached, Jenkins noted. "We want to get to everyone so we can give them some hope. We just want to help."

Volunteers are the biggest need for now and will remain so for a while, he added.

The hope Jenkins spoke of is coming for Theresa Brucie. A resident of one of Conklin's riverside homes, she was out of her home for days when the flooding hit. She also had no idea how bad it would get. "I had water up into the first floor, all the way up the stairs. I had only put things up onto the counters because previous floods had just barely come into the house," she said.

Until Wednesday the house had gone almost untouched - that is until a crew of volunteers from a nearby church stopped by. Close to 20 members from the Union Center Christian Church in nearby Endicott were out spending yet another day cleaning up flooded homes.

"We've been doing this since the disaster and we want to keep helping," said Craig Shields, Union Center's executive pastor. As church members carried out destroyed household items and dragged downed trees to the curb, Brucie stopped to smile. "These volunteers are a true blessing," she said. "I'm so thankful for them. My dad will never believe we did all this in one day."

There are plenty of other home just like Brucie's, said one Union Center volunteer, so while responses like Brucie's are inspiring, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed.

"We're doing a lot, but it feels like we're just scratching the surface," said Susan Harkness, Union Center's executive administrator.

Still, Shields said, the commitment to the community is important whether it's done by mudding out or by simply being there for an affected family. "Sometimes we just need to listen to the homeowners and pray with them if they want to. Some don't even know where to start. We want to be here to meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs and do what we can."

Many other churches and agencies around Broome County are remaining as committed as Shields' church. Over at St. Mary's of the Assumption Catholic Church in Binghamton, volunteers staffed a relief center stocked full of supplies.

The volunteers weren't surprised about serving more than 300 people so far because of the devastation they'd seen. "This is the worst we've ever seen," said Helena Kosicky, a member of St. Mary's.

The crew's motivations were similar to Union Center's - helping each other is a must. "It's important to do something like this," said Shirley Mastro, another St. Mary's member. "It's our responsibility. I mean, it could have been us."

All were happy to see so much generosity pouring into the area. St. Mary's volunteer Jackie Stento said she hopes that generosity will help raise the spirits of the affected families.

"People are really in shock. They're depressed, some are crying. They're exhausted mentally and physically. This is an emotional roller coaster and it will continue for some time. Some people won't be allowed back into their homes to get their belongings."

To continue helping the families, Billie Jo Youmans said representatives from close to 50 agencies meet weekly to discuss the recovery. "Everyone is working together to meet the needs," said Youmans, the interim coordinator of the Volunteer Action Center for the United Way of Broome County.

More affected families are being found each week, she said, demonstrating how the flood hit in pockets around the county. "It was those small creeks that got so many people," said Youmans. "We've never seen a disaster of this proportion."

Youman's own in-laws had flood damage as well. She worries that like them, other elderly people will have a hard time rebuilding. She only hopes that many of those same people will have a similar mindset to her father-in-law. "We were standing outside his home and there was mud and damage everywhere. My husband and I questioned out loud what was next for them. And he just replied, 'Well, it's a challenge, but we'll be alright.'"

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Related Links:

Conklin Presbyterian Church

United Way of Broome County


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