Looking for service opportunities for your church's mission team in 2018? How about "alternative vacation" ideas? Consider serving with UCC Disaster Ministries as hurricane recovery volunteers in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Texas or Florida.
"Serving at any one of our four work sites would mean the world to people struggling to recover months, even years after wind and water robbed them of safe homes," said UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth.
All sites are registering work teams now! The newest work sites are in Puerto Rico and on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition, work continues in Port Arthur, Texas, and Volusia County, Fla. Here are details:
Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma's and then Maria's destruction of lives and property. Work teams of up to 15 volunteers each may sign up now to help with recovery. Beginning June 2018, groups will serve for one-week periods.
Work may include debris removal, cleaning, tarping, sanitation, light carpentry, roofing, and repair work of homes and/or church properties. Each work group should have two people knowledgeable in home repair and rebuilding. The work will involve being exposed to a hot and humid climate, possible heavy lifting and climbing ladders, often while required to wear safety gear such as eye protection, safety hats, respirators and/or Tyvek protective suits.
Minimum age: 16. Volunteers will be housed in dorms at a church camp and will be using the camp kitchen to prepare meals. The worksites may be up to an hour’s drive away from the camp. The UCC leadership for disaster recovery mission teams will arrive in Puerto Rico soon and will send out more information to registered groups as it comes available.
ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
The UCC's work site on St. Thomas, USVI, has just opened. The U.S. Virgin Islands suffered a double punch last September from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which crippled tourism and pushed up both unemployment and prices. This left thousands unable to afford repairing the damage to their homes - especially the more than 40 percent of residents already living at or below the poverty line.
Reports that cruise ships are arriving ignore that the islands' tourism economy is driven by the on-island retreats and hotels, which are projected to take three to five years to recover.
And they skip over the current reality for thousands of residents: mold-infested homes with still-leaking roofs and ruined possessions yet to be discarded.
"Muck and gut" volunteer work teams are needed now, and may be scheduled to serve for one to three weeks each. They are working under the auspices of the St. Thomas Recovery Team and Disaster Recovery Support Initiative. The latter is a collaboration of the disaster ministries of the United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
"While we have to wait for case management and funding to begin repair and rebuild work, there is much we can do to clean out the homes, tarp them to keep the rain out, and treat for mold so they do not continue to deteriorate until they can be properly repaired," said Rilse Richards, Volunteer Committee Chair.
This first phase of work involves debris removal, cleaning, tarping and sanitation. It will require heavy lifting and climbing ladders, often while wearing such safety gear as eye protection, safety hats, respirators and/or Tyvek protection suits - all in a hot and humid climate.
PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS
In Port Arthur, Texas, UCC Disaster Ministries and the Southeast Texas Community Development Corporation (SETCDC) have joined forces to repair 17 apartments affordable to low-income renters.
Hurricane Harvey last August flooded the units with two feet of water. As a result, the residents - who were already struggling to secure basic needs and services - were displaced, and much of their personal property was destroyed.
The first work team served in February. Work may include but will not be limited to light carpentry, drywall, insulation, flooring, trim and painting.
VOLUSIA COUNTY (DAYTONA BEACH AREA), FLORIDA
Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sept. 10, 2017, with record-force winds and storm surges, causing extensive damage. Hurricane Matthew had hit the same areas in October 2016. In Volusia County, Fla., dozens of homes were destroyed and hundreds suffered major damage, with more than $600 million in estimated losses.
UCC Disaster Ministries has partnered with VIND (Volusia Interfaith Agencies Networking in Disaster) to repair and rebuild homes. Work includes roofing, gutting interiors, replacing insulation, siding, drywall repair and painting, flooring and other interior work as needed.