This post originally was published on March 7, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
One of the greatest challenges after any major disaster is providing effective help as quickly as possible. Too often, though, this effort becomes greatly hindered by an onslaught of donated materials or well-meaning people interjecting themselves without paying attention to the directions of local or experienced 1st and 2nd responders. “Disasters within disasters” is the label often given to the logistical mess of coordinating storage and processing of all the things and finding housing for the unaffiliated volunteers and tracking their credentials or affiliations only detracts from the actual needs and ability of the local leadership and the disaster relief agencies that are encouraging local response.
Above: "Tens of thousands of stuffed animals, donated to the children of Newtown, Conn., following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, fill a warehouse. Most were sent away." - Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But Relief
How can you avoid hindering disaster response, and making sure your effort to help makes the helpful difference you want it to make, rather than another mini-disaster?
Begin by listening carefully to what survivors most directly impacted by disaster and local responders with first hand knowledge say they need. Often, local agencies will begin posting specific needs on their websites or other social media outlets.
Above: "Thousands of food and clothing items are organized by Occupy Sandy volunteers in a school gymnasium in Rockaway Park, Queens, after Superstorm Sandy in November." - The Second Disaster: Making Well-Intentioned Donations Useful
If you are not in a position to find out specific information from survivors and local responders, here are additional ways to make sure your contribution provides the most help:
In these days of mass media, local communities become deeply impacted by distant events. Keeping eyes, ears, and hearts peeled to how service providers, individuals, families, and lay caregivers can best use their skills and passions to respond to local impact can greatly increase resiliency, decrease anxiety, and make growth contagious.
Above: Viral photos of the thousands of abandoned water bottles after Hurricane Maria
After a crisis or disaster . . . do you "move on"? Get back to "business as usual"? "Return to normal"? Find your "new normal"?
As so many of us know, all of these terms are fraught with discomfort and unease. None of them are "right." All of these terms, in one way or another, can cause those of us who have survived severe loss great offense.
"There's no 'moving on,'" one woman told me this week. "And," she continued, "there's nothing normal in going forward. It's just before and after. What life was like before, and what life is like after."
This sentiment is especially key for organizational leaders to hear and keep in mind. How does your organization's mission take into account the large majority of people today who are living life with strong senses of "before" and "after"? How does your organization meet them where they are? Does your mission enhance life "after" what's happened?
At the Institute, we find those questions are some of the most important for a leader to consider. Because your answer means the difference between being connected or disconnected with your constituents, staff, students, congregation, or community. We also find that too many leaders erroneously believe that allowing members of their organization to grieve, mourn, lament, or even admit some sense of despair will cause further chaos or inhibit any movement forward. So, instead, they strive to return to usual routines and distract their people from negative feelings by focusing everyone's attention on positive momentum.
Unfortunately, complete denial of what's happened, or how it affects people, can lead some to eventual burnout, break downs, or needing to self-medicate through excessive food, substance abuse, or forms of self-harm.
It's tricky, though. For many organizations, it's not appropriate to manage how their people are dealing with loss personally.
To navigate these common challenges, in the aftermath of loss, we encourage leaders to help their people to become mindful of what is personal or may be inhibiting their work in some way. Rather than denying these things, we encourage leaders to identify local resources where their people may turn for support as they identify personal grievances. These may include local talk therapists, art or music therapists, spiritual directors, chaplains or clergy, physical trainers or somatic therapists, physicians, friends or fellowship groups – or any combination of caregivers. By encouraging your people to embrace the local "village of care" often you will find survivors resume interest in and ability to achieve your group's mission. Sometimes, you may also find your mission expands, in light of what's happened in the larger community.
How have you seen the "village of care" at work in your community? How have you seen it enhance your community's response to collective loss? Share in the comments below.
Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. She is an organizational health consultant and pastoral psychotherapist. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.
7 Tips for Leaders Participating in Long-Term Recovery Committees to Rebuild Community after Natural Disasters
The Institute originally published this post on February 10, 2017, on the ICTG Blog. It has been updated.
Rebuilding a community after natural disaster is no easy feat. It takes patience, perseverance, organizational skills, teamwork, and strong leadership to get things done. For leaders participating in Long-Term Recovery (LTR) Committees, this is especially true.
Before the LTR group begins, first a community faces the essential tasks of immediate response, search and rescue, and assessing the full scope of damage. Communities often will create Family Assistance Centers or Local Assistance Centers for residents hopefully to reconnect with family members who are missing, or to gain access through a one-stop shop of essential resources. Once the first phase of response is complete, LTR groups can help communities leverage their assets most effectively, reduce the duplication of efforts, and meet unmet needs.
ICTG’s Senior Advisor for Congregations, FEMA, and VOAD Relations Harvey Howell knows what it takes to make a successful LTR group. Harvey has volunteered on 100+ disaster relief deployments, covering over 27 states. His focus has been on providing training to communities on disaster preparation, response, and recovery.
Below, Harvey shares seven tips for leaders to keep in mind when helping their communities rebuild after severe loss from natural disasters:
#1- It's a marathon, not a sprint. As soon as possible, establish a steady pace for the long journey rather than a mad dash. This will prevent burnout.
#2- To accomplish #1, spend time getting organized. This is especially true when faced with the pressure to urgently "do something". Spending time getting organized will be more effective in the long run.
#3- Each of us brings different strengths, aptitudes, and gifts. Remember not everyone fits the same role, and a good long-term recovery team will incorporate people with a range of abilities.
#4- Authority matters in bringing order amid chaos and kindness goes a long way in creating trust and building reliable relationships.
#5- The work of every committee, no matter how simple or detailed, menial or highly skilled, is accomplished by the team – more than just one person. In addition to accomplishing the task at-hand, LTR Committee work affords opportunity to share burdens, practice collaboration between organizations that might otherwise not have reason to come together, and observe future leadership in development.
#6- The touchstone to #5 is to encourage as many participants as possible to engage in the work of long-term recovery, even if one could do the task. If one person is standing in a doorway, no one else can get into the room. Encourage participation from as wide a circle as possible.
#7- Well-written minutes for LTR meetings are among the most encouraging documents an LTR Committee can produce. They can demonstrate progress, provide snapshots of the journey, give community-building messages, and HELP FUNDERS who want to be part of the story.
You can learn more about LTR guidelines here.
Interested in learning more trauma-informed best practices for your organization? Visit the ICTG training manuals menu to purchase ICTG’s resource guides. If a more personal connection would be helpful, contact us for more information about coaching for you or your staff.
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"Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference." -Virginia Satir
You can’t always stop something bad from happening in your city, but you can decide how you’re going to respond to it. The City of Hampton, Virginia, found that people often came looking for information after a homicide in their neighborhood. To connect people with available resources, the City instituted the R.E.S.E.T. program in partnership with the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Victim Services Unit, City of Hampton’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Opportunities, Hampton 3-1-1, and the Hampton Police Department.
R.E.S.E.T., or Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma, is a program led by volunteers who live in the neighborhoods they serve. Its framework is simple: neighbors share information about trauma support resources. The program is completely restorative in nature; although volunteers typically visit an area within 24 to 48 hours of a homicide or a serious violent gun violence crime, they are not investigating the crime. They are simply canvassing their community and speaking with their neighbors, creating an opportunity for residents to learn about the resources and programs available.
All volunteers must pass a background check and complete R.E.S.E.T. training. During the training, volunteers learn about the programs they will be highlighting, which include social services, 3-1-1, and other city programs, in addition to domestic violence services, counseling services, and other services offered by external city partners and non-profit organizations. Although the programs highlighted during R.E.S.E.T. visits can vary, they typically utilize the same programs each time.
The City has seen a positive return on investment and a large increase in resident engagement. The program has attracted more volunteers as it grows and, not only are more residents utilizing the programs highlighted by R.E.S.E.T., but the City receives calls inquiring about additional opportunities for receiving services and getting engaged in the community.
Think R.E.S.E.T. might be a good fit in your community? The City of Hampton had a few tips for getting started:
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From 2012-2021, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.