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Grace Church helps survivors of past hurricanes, prepares for new ones

Grace Church helps survivors of past hurricanes, prepares for new ones

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Grace Church helps survivors of past hurricanes, prepares for new ones

Aug. 29, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0538}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

Wearing neon-green shirts that say, "Disaster Relief Team ... 'Here I am, send me!' Isaiah 6:8," team members from the disaster ministry team at Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral work to retarp a roof damaged during last year's storm season. Photo courtesy of Grace United Methodist Church, Photo #06-429.

It’s been almost a year since Hurricane Wilma whipped through many of Florida’s communities. It’s no longer front-page news, but much of the devastation remains.

“There’s still work to be done. It amazes me that some local churches are still unaware that there’s still a cry for help,” said Patti Nemazie, a member of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral.

Nemazie is one of about 40 church members who helped form a new ministry called The Grace Disaster Relief Ministry. They received early responders training through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) so they’ll be ready when disaster strikes.

In the meantime, the team has been practicing the UMCOR model in the field. They formed three teams and began working in neighboring communities still recovering from previous hurricanes, with each team focusing on a local mission. Within each team, team members were assigned specific responsibilities outlined in UMCOR’s training: logistics, team leader and base camp manager. With the experience they’re getting they say they’re prepared for any hurricanes that may hit this season.

One team worked with Lee County Human Services to help a grandmother who qualified for a grant, but still needed “lots of work to be done to her house to make that family whole again,” Nemazie said. “She is the caregiver to three grandchildren.”

Nemazie said the cost of the supplies was covered by the grant and the church’s disaster ministry was “the hands and feet, using the UMCOR model.”

The second and third teams worked in the Clewiston area on tree and debris removal and in Bonita Springs doing minor roof repairs. After the teams completed their “missions,” Nemazie said they met as a large group to discuss what did and did not work well.

Lon Elliott was on the team that visited Clewiston in July. They were surprised to see so much damage that still remained from Hurricane Wilma.

“They still had trees leaning; you could still see blue tarp on houses. There’s been some cleanup, but it’s been slow,” he said.

His team helped with home repairs and rebuilding at three houses. They re-tarped Joyce Hollingsworth’s home — Hurricane Wilma had shown it no mercy.

“It knocked down my garage. Concrete beams got knocked down during the storm,” Hollingsworth said. “It ripped some of the roof off and uprooted one mango tree and six fruit trees.”

A bond formed between Hollingsworth and the Grace Church team members. Nemazie recalls the homeowner sharing the story of how the home had been in her family for generations — she inherited it from her mother. Her grandmother died in the back bedroom during a house fire.

“She cried out, ‘Lord, I need your help. Water’s coming in, there’s mold.’ Then the phone rang within minutes and it was the logistics team from Grace Church calling to say they were coming to tarp her roof,” Nemazie said.

Hollingsworth insists it was answered prayer. “I said ‘Lord, what will I do. If another storm comes, this roof is going to fall,’ ” she said.

Elliott recalls the gratitude of every homeowner his team helped. “One couple was in their 80s. When the job was done, they wanted to give us a donation, but we said no.”

There are hundreds of people in need in Clewiston, hundreds of stories of rebuilding. Until a new round of hurricanes makes landfall, Grace Church team members will continue to respond to the survivors of past hurricanes.

“We’ve got a list of more places that need help,” said Elliott. “Until we’re called out by UMCOR for a disaster elsewhere, we’ll help here.”

And Hollingsworth appreciates the team’s work on her family home. “I was very pleased. We ministered to each other. It (Hurricane Wilma) did some damage, but in spite of it all, we were blessed,” she said.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.