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Recovery in Arcadia is long, church continues its efforts (Dec. 9, 2004)

Recovery in Arcadia is long, church continues its efforts (Dec. 9, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Recovery in Arcadia is long, church continues its efforts

Dec. 9, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0204}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

ARCADIA — Patricia and Jere Worley, both in their 70s, already had their hands full dealing with health problems, raising their adopted grandchild and great-grandchild, and tending their 10-acre orange groves.

And that was before Hurricane Charley blew through their town.

The storm pounded their Fort Ogden home, which is located just outside Arcadia. "There was a lot of roof damage and a barn that's down and a pump house, and all of the oranges are off," Patricia Worley said. "Charley picked oranges in about 30 minutes."

In addition to losing their 10-acre crop of oranges and the roof damage, the storm also blew in windows. The family did not have the money or insurance to cover their losses, according to Patricia. And Jere Worley, recovering from recent open-heart surgery, was too weak to make any repairs himself. So they reached out to the community.

"We went down [into town] looking for help," Patricia said.

ARCADIA — A work team from Virginia makes repairs to Patricia and Jere Worley's home here. The work team was sent by Trinity United Methodist Church's "clearinghouse" for disaster relief. Photo courtesy of Don and Sherrin Larson, Photo #04-0115.

Assistance came in November through a work team from Virginia sent to the couple's home by Trinity United Methodist Church's "clearinghouse" for disaster relief. The church is serving as a hub for determining unmet storm-related community needs in the Arcadia area and coordinating efforts for meeting those needs.

"[The team] was wonderful. They were a lot of fun and a sheer joy to be around, and the Methodist church should be very proud of their people," Worley said.

The work team purchased the materials for the roof repair with their own money-about $2,500 -and made the repairs themselves.

The Worley's need was only one of many unmet needs in the area. Unmet needs include those that have been registered with the church and aren't covered by other means, such as insurance or federal assistance.

Don Larson, program director for Trinity's disaster relief, leads the church's effort to determine needs and meet them. Before Larson took on the role of program director, the Rev. David Harris, pastor of the church, performed much of the coordinating efforts.

"We've started with a program to contact every home in the county," Larson said.

Larson estimates there are slightly more than 10,000 households in DeSoto County. Of those, he said about 83 percent are damaged in some way, and many of them are uninsured or underinsured.

If a family responds with a need, the Trinity team adds them to its database and assigns a caseworker. The needs are prioritized by their severity. Right now, Larson is working with a staff of about nine people and plans to build that to 28 people.

Some of the staff are volunteers and others are paid.

"UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief] is providing funding for several of our people, and we've also been successful in getting National Emergency Grants," Larson said. "The grant money goes to salaries for some of the case workers-we have three people under the grants."

The church also has a specific person who is coordinating the Hispanic case management-Gricel Hernandez-who is in the process of becoming a pastor at a Hispanic mission born out of Trinity's disaster response to the Hispanic community, according to Larson. Larson said the area's migrant worker population is included in their contact and assessment process and the language and cultural barriers are posing some challenges.

Larson said other assistance comes from a group called Project Hope. They are a separate organization from the church and are paid through a state grant. Some are working in Trinity offices.

"They are like angels out here in yellow shirts," Larson said. "They are generally trained case workers who are objective in assessing damages, but also...these folks are trained to give emotional counseling."

ARCADIA — Carry Hurst (left) and Martha Berube are two of about nine people working at Trinity United Methodist Church's disaster relief office to help meet the needs of Arcadia residents affected by this year's hurricanes. Photo courtesy of Don and Sherrin Larson, Photo #04-0116.

In its fellowship hall, Trinity is equipped with four telephone and four computers to handle the caseload.

"The congregation has been fantastic about allowing us to take over the fellowship hall," Larson said.

Every Monday, representatives from churches and other community organizations gather together to discuss the unmet needs. Larson said each group brings to the table its own abilities.

"There are so many people involved, and the whole community comes together for the Unmet Needs Committee, and what Trinity brings to the table is that we are the coordinators of the unmet needs," Larson said.

Larson said the team began calling every home in the county in October to determine needs.

"Right now we're focusing on folks who don't have enough money to hire a contractor but do have enough money to buy the materials [for repairs]," Larson said.

In the meantime, Larson said he has applied for grants to take on the next segment of the population-those who don't have enough money to purchase materials.

For the next year, Larson estimates the church relief center will spend about $2.3 million in cash and in-kind donations. A little more than $1.1 million in cash will be spent, and the rest of the budget will come from in-kind donations, which are mostly labor, Larson said.

"These numbers are based on what we think we can accomplish in one year and the need is much, much greater than that," Larson said.

The money will come from several different sources. The team has already received a $54,000 grant from DeSoto County and another $42,000 from the Unmet Needs Committee. Larson said he's also seeking grants from DeSoto County and the Governor's Fund for Disaster Recovery in Tallahassee-both in the amount of about $500,000. An organization called Somebody Cares Tampa Bay gave the church two grants for a total of $14,000, according to its disaster coordinator, Clyde Stutts. And both UMCOR and the Florida Storm Recovery Center (FSRC) have provided financial assistance.

Larson also said the church has received some labor assistance from the FSRC in Lakeland.

"That's how my wife, Sherrin, and I found this church," Larson said. "They called us."

Larson is retired from his career in management for an electric utility company. During part of his career, he served as emergency management director for a nuclear facility.

"God tends to prepare us for what He puts in front of us," Larson said.

He and his wife now travel in their recreational vehicle throughout the country, visiting grandchildren and stopping off to help with disaster relief when the need arises. They have been doing this for more than five years.

"We're independent and we keep finding ourselves involved with Methodists because they are very active in poverty and disaster areas," Larson said.

The couple plans to work with Trinity for the next few months. They are not the only helpers that have arrived though a referral from the FSRC. A heavy equipment operator was sent to the area in the days before Thanksgiving to clear debris.

Other help comes from out of town and out of state. Trinity serves breakfast and lunch for the out-of-town workers in its fellowship hall. The church also houses the workers overnight or helps them find a place to sleep. Hotel rooms are still very hard to come by, according to Larson.

"We do have some that come in travel trailers and motor homes, and we're trying to find a place to set up a temporary RV park," Larson said.


Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Groups interested in forming a work team to assist with hurricane recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

Donations for recovery may also be made to UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and dropped into church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. People donating by credit card can call 800-554-8583.

For storm recovery news and updates go to

This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.