Church World Service Growing Ecumenically with UCC

A pilot program to help communities launch long-term recovery following disasters is growing ecumenically.

Over the past two years, the disaster ministries of the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Church of the Brethren have joined forces to pioneer the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative (DRSI) in nine states and U.S. territories.

Now DRSI is folding into the disaster programs of Church World Service (CWS), a faith-based organization with 37 member communions, including DRSI’s three founding denominations (which will continue active involvement as DRSI’s Advisory/Steering Team). CWS responds to hunger, poverty, displacement and disaster around the globe.

DRSI addresses the growing gap between when a disaster hits and when volunteers are deployed to support community-based long-term recovery. Its stated projected outcome is “to develop capacity within the local community to lead a holistic recovery after a disaster, which will reduce the time between the event and the organization of a functioning, local Long-Term Recovery Group.”

DRSI uses a Disaster Recovery Support Team on the ground to encourage, mentor and otherwise support community-based recovery groups. The team may include up to three members with expertise in three main areas – basic formation/training, disaster case management, and construction.

The Disaster Recovery Support Team deploys to a disaster-affected community at the invitation of community leaders, local non-governmental organizations and other concerned stakeholders. A deployment is custom-tailored for the needs of the community and can range from single week-long visits to embedding within the community for 2-6 months.

The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC associate general minister for Global Engagement and co-executive of Global Ministries, said, “Expanding this network with CWS further enables timely long-term recovery. This ecumenical engagement is a further sign that the churches involved in disaster recover are committed to new ways of working together.”

In general, long-term recovery groups work with residents who need assistance to restore their homes to safe, sanitary and secure conditions, prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable, including elderly persons, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities.

In the context of recent disasters, closer observation of these groups has identified structural and operational weaknesses in disaster response and recovery.

Some examples of areas in which LTRGs have requested support/strengthening include development of By-laws and Codes of Conduct, basic disaster case management skills, navigating the FEMA appeals process, and proposal writing.

Findings from the evaluation of DRSI in the U.S. Virgin Islands indicated that long-term recovery groups improved their ability to address and manage construction, mobilize disaster case managers, raise funds, establish internal systems and more. Through the DRSI capacity building approach of sustained on-site presence of the DRSI Team who encourage, mentor, model, and support the LTRG the local group members are enabled to better solve their problems and respond to needs of survivors.

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