Main Menu

Project Transition continues to help Katrina survivors

Project Transition continues to help Katrina survivors

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Project Transition continues to help Katrina survivors

Jan. 26, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0432}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, affected families continue to need help meeting their basic needs.
Thanks to Project Transition, an organization formed in the East Central District of the Florida Conference in wake of the disaster, they're getting it.

Project Transition was launched in Orlando after the district received a $20,000 grant from the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) to hire two caseworkers. Edith Vieytes-Lopez and Laurencia Fahie were hired, and for the first several months, the organization operated from First

ORLANDO — American Red Cross volunteers work with survivors of Hurricane Katrina at a Red Cross processing center set up at First United Methodist Church of Orlando. Photo by Tita Parham (2005), Photo #06-301.

United Methodist Church, Orlando, which also housed the American Red Cross "one-stop" center for evacuees.

Vieytes-Lopez, who previously worked as a substance abuse counselor and is a Hurricane Andrew survivor, said the days and weeks right after Hurricane Katrina hit were extremely hectic, with families needing all types of emergency assistance for food, clothing, shelter, medical care and trauma counseling.

"As they came along, a lot of them had a lot of issues ... they didn't know north, south, east, west," Vieytes-Lopez said, adding many families needed help navigating through the various systems of relief and overcoming roadblocks.

Some also had special needs. Among them were a number of women who were pregnant. So far, Project Transition has helped 11 women obtain medical care and baby items.
"There was a time that I had nine cribs in my garage," Vieytes-Lopez said.
Another challenge was keeping track of families who sought shelter in hotels. Both Vieytes-Lopez and Fahie visited hotels to leave information about Project Transition. Some hotels provided information about the number of evacuees they were housing. Others kept the names confidential, according to Vieytes-Lopez.
Fahie worked to arrange temporary and permanent housing. She also organized donated furniture and household goods for evacuees' homes.
"I would go out to the different hotels and have the evacuees come to me if they were having trouble finding affordable homes," she said.
Using a special database through Orange County and the city of Orlando, Fahie helped families find housing in an affordable price range. Some were able to receive 60 days of rent at no charge, paid for by Orange County.

Fahie has also arranged job training for some of her clients and said several agencies "were offering to help them pick up a skill."
She now serves as office manager for Project Transition and will continue to help evacuees locate housing and set up their households.
"Now that most of our families are going into homes, we are trying to get volunteers to transport donated furniture and also seeking donations (of household goods and furniture)," she said.
Vieytes-Lopez and Fahie say there are a number of reasons evacuees chose Central Florida when they were relocating. Some had family members who were already living here or had successfully relocated to the area. Others were drawn by the possibility of employment at one of the area's tourist attractions.
"What we're finding is that some of them who have come to Florida and have been successful ... are sending for other family members," Fahie said.

As of mid-January Project Transition had handled more than 300 cases — each case representing a family. More are expected to need assistance during the next several months. The SRC's disaster response administrative team plans to provide another grant and is evaluating needs that still exist. The original grant continues through April. Heart of Florida United Way in Orlando also recently gave Project Transition a grant of $43,600 and is providing space at its offices.

More case managers will be hired, as well, according to Marilyn Beecher, the East Central District's outreach coordinator.

"Now we're going to coordinate the long-term case management for people who need some additional assistance adjusting to life in a new community," Beecher said. "So we partnered with the United Way to expand what we're able to do."

Caseworkers are asking evacuee families if there is a faith community with which they would like to be connected, Beecher said.

"The focus of the work is to help them find the housing and jobs they need to begin their new life here," Beecher said. "Out of that, I find there (are) incredible opportunities to share."

Beecher said the United Methodist community has done "incredible" work supporting the "one-stop" center, as well as providing Stephen ministers to talk with evacuees. And volunteers are now helping locate and transport donated furniture and household goods.

Anyone interested in helping transport furniture or household items or making a donation can call Fahie at 211, United Way's community resources and elder helpline. For more information about Project Transition call Vieytes-Lopez at 407-575-3353.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

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