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MD interfaith impacts lives

BY SUSAN KIM | CUMBERLAND, MD | February 7, 2000

CUMBERLAND, MD (Feb. 7, 2000) -- People in this town still tell the

story of the 1996 floodwaters that cascaded down the Allegheny

mountainsides onto their modest homes.

But in the same breath, they'll mention Sharon Kazary, executive

director of NAILS as a solid, caring presence in their lives.

She is helping them recover after most others have forgotten them.

Just last month she discovered a woman living with no heat or hot

water. She met with a plumber who will elevate another resident's

furnace. She'll meet with contractors who will elevate still another

man's trailer home.

She's coordinating volunteers who will replace floors, build ramps

for disabled people, retrofit bathrooms, and repair porches, among

many other labors of love.

Kazary, with a reputation for caring that has won accolades from

survivors and volunteers alike, also achieves results that earned

NAILS an Outstanding Voluntary Agency award from the Federal

Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Thanks to Kazary's efforts, FEMA

identified Allegheny County as a "star" Project Impact community

because NAILS is a program that saves lives and cuts property damage.

Project Impact is a FEMA initiative in which communities across the

U.S. receive funding to help mitigate against the effects of disaster.

After the second federally declared flood of 1996, Jean Smith,

director of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services,

said, "we were tired of people getting hurt. Some people replaced

their heating system not once but twice within 18 months."

And so Smith's department partnered with NAILS, an interfaith

long-term disaster recovery program.

After the 1996 floods, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance made a relief

grant to the Baltimore Presbytery to hire two flood relief advocates

and Kazary 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 coal miners, small business owners, and

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.

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. And NAILS was born.

Since then, NAILS has received a grant through the City of

Cumberland, and also from Allegany County through Project Impact. 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.

"Sharon has this marvelous ability to foster change in people's core

beliefs. She got people to change the way they think about being

flooded," said Smith. "Without her, we wouldn't have been able to

touch people the way we did."

Kazary took a small amount of government funding and accomplished a

lot at the local level, added Jenny McGann of the Maryland Emergency

Management Agency. "It's a unique thing, a government agency

partnering with a faith-based nonprofit group. It's a different


It's also an approach that saves money. By coordinating volunteer

teams from churches and other groups -- 126 volunteers last summer

alone -- Kazary alleviates a significant amount of labor costs. The

labor to build a ramp for disabled people, for example, could be

quoted as high as $4,000, said McGann.

Plus, NAILS blends volunteer labor, reputable contractors for jobs

volunteers can't do, and a sense of spiritual grounding.

"People are sometimes fearful of government agencies but Sharon lets

them know it's okay. That personalized touch is very important," said


NAILS takes care of people whose needs are unmet by federal and state

disaster aid. "We always have clients that fall between the cracks,"

said Mary Jane Bonser, housing division chief for the Allegheny

County Department of Community Services. "Sharon is so very

personable. She is a very caring person and that's what it takes."

From Kazary's point of view, the partnership between a faith-based

group and a government agency just makes good sense.

"This is a case where the government let the local people organize it

without really telling them what to do. We have used the money well,"

she said.

But Kazary is busy trying to fundraise from other sources, too. She's

got 87 people on a waiting list.

She also needs more volunteers, even though many are already making

second and third trips back to Cumberland this year to help some more.

Pauline Reisberg said that volunteering was rewarding in an

unexpected way. She was among 16 members of the Ward's Chapel United

Methodist Church in Randallstown, Md. to make the three-hour drive to

Cumberland to volunteer.

"You go there thinking how much you're going to help people and come

away with how much they've helped you. We got much closer as a group."

Volunteer Mary Margaret Gibson, who was among a group of 25 from the

Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, MD, said that

NAILS gives people of all ages an opportunity to help. "We had quite

the age range," she said. "Some of us are very senior citizens and

some are young people. We're going back this year."

Posted Feb. 7, 2000

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