Conference Disaster Coordinators: Q & A with UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth

Conference Disaster Coordinators: Q & A with UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth

February 15, 2016
Written by Carol Fouke-Mpoyo
Zach Wolgemuth at the dedication of rental homes for Hurricane Sandy survivors in Berkeley Township, N.J.
Zach Wolgemuth at the dedication of rental homes for Hurricane Sandy survivors in Berkeley Township, N.J.

United Church of Christ Conference Disaster Coordinators ("CDCs") held their 2016 annual meeting Jan. 28-30 at Slumber Falls Camp and Conference Center in New Braunfels, Texas. We took the occasion to ask UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth some questions about the CDC program.

Q: What's a Conference Disaster Coordinator?

Wolgemuth: A Conference Disaster Coordinator is an individual appointed by the conference to serve as a primary point of contact and team leader for a Conference Disaster Team (CDT). CDCs act as a liaison between the CDT, the conference and UCC Disaster Ministries. They are the backbone of UCC Disaster Ministries' domestic preparedness and long-term recovery efforts. "Conference Disaster Coordinator" is a volunteer position.  Some CDCs are retired, and some have full-time jobs.

Q: What is the CDC’s job description?

Wolgemuth: Their primary responsibility is to develop and lead a Conference Disaster Team to assist the conference and congregations to prepare for disasters and – when disasters occur – to educate local UCC leadership, donors and supporters of needs, disseminate information and recruit and deploy volunteers for long-term recovery work. By maintaining relationships with UCC Disaster Ministries and with state and local disaster response entities, both governmental and private sector, including state and local VOADs (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), they are able to appropriately focus the resources of the ministry (financial, volunteer, time and energy) on preparedness and long-term recovery efforts.

Q: How many CDCs are there?

Wolgemuth: There are currently 45 Conference Disaster Coordinators and/or Co- Coordinators representing 29 of the 38 Conferences.  

Q: What do the Conference Disaster Teams do?

Wolgemuth: Conference Disaster Team (CDT) members develop relationships with the state and local VOADs (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), and assist the conference and its congregations in preparedness planning. In the early days of a disaster the CDT members serve as the first point of contact with congregations that have been impacted, and share information about disaster recovery needs and appropriate ways to help. As long-term needs are identified the CDT will engage communities where long-term recovery support will be needed, and educate and encourage local UCC leaders about how to participate in the local long-term recovery efforts. The CDT will also recruit and support the deployment of both short-term work teams and long-term volunteers for long-term community recovery work.

Q: At the recent meeting, were there any points you especially wanted to get across?

Wolgemuth: UCC Disaster Ministries' focus is on preparedness and long-term recovery. It is extremely important that all CDCs have a common understanding of their role and the focus of the ministry, and that they are able to direct limited resources (time, energy, financial and volunteer) to support the overall mission and ministry.

Q: Say more about the UCC's focus on preparedness and long-term recovery.

Wolgemuth: It is key that as a ministry we focus energies in these two specific areas and not try to directly engage throughout the entire disaster response and recovery continuum. Preparedness and long-term recovery are two areas where additional support is needed in most disasters. It requires patience and a willingness to allow space for the dozens of organizations that respond to immediate needs to do what they do best - i.e. sheltering, mobile feeding units, muck-out work, chainsaw crews, childcare, case management, tarping roofs, grants, medical supplies, etc. UCC Disaster Ministries is a member of National VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) which is a strong network of over 60 nationally recognized, active and reputable organizations with specialized roles that work collaboratively throughout the entire response and recovery continuum.

Q: How can UCC members support the denomination's Disaster Ministries?

Wolgemuth: Each conference needs a team of individuals and a CDC to provide leadership and serve as a primary point of contact. I would encourage anyone interested in disaster ministries to reach out to your conference office and/or CDC and join the Conference Disaster Team (CDT). Diverse skills and backgrounds are needed on the CDT. Additionally, financial resources are needed to build a team and support the CDC and CDT so that they can attend trainings, speak at congregations, print materials, travel to disaster sites and develop key relationships throughout the disaster response and recovery community (VOAD, Emergency Management Office, etc.). UCC members can support domestic disaster recovery and the work of CDCs financially through UCC's Emergency USA Fund.

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Contact Info

Zachary Wolgemuth
Executive for UCC Disaster Ministries
700 Prospect Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115