Colorado church members continue recovery efforts after September's damaging floods
Written by Emily Schappacher November 29, 2013
Volunteers from Longmont UCC work to repair damage caused by September's devastating floods.
As soon as the rain subsided on Sept. 15, members of Longmont United Church of Christ in Longmont, Colo., began cleaning up the damage caused by the devastating Colorado floods. More than 65 members reached out to affected neighbors, pumping out water, removing drywall and insulation, and preparing the most damaged homes to be treated with anti-mold and fungal sprays. Another 45 volunteers offered free child care at the church to allow parents the opportunity to assess the damage to their homes and properties. Today, the Longmont UCC volunteers are still going strong, with no intentions of stopping until the recovery is complete.
"We are going to work until the work is done," said the Rev. Rick King, the church's senior pastor. "People in our congregation are classic UCC folks, really putting their faith into action in a variety of ways."
Beginning Sept. 9, a week of historically heavy rains caused flooding that ravaged a 200-mile stretch of Colorado, killing eight people, destroying 1,600 homes and damaging another 17,000 properties. Six people are reportedly still missing. While Longmont UCC emerged unscathed and the homes of only two of the church's families were damaged by the storm, members of the congregation have logged more than 1,300 volunteer hours to help those most affected by the floods piece their lives back together. King said the people they are helping have mainly come from referrals, such as friends and family of members – and then their friends and family – in the state's most damaged areas.
"One referral leads to another, which leads to another," King said. "At this point, whenever we hear about a household that needs help, we look at what needs to be done and then schedule volunteers to do the work."
At this time, a core group of 20 skilled volunteers, many who also helped with similar recovery efforts in Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, are working on the homes of five Colorado families. The church received a $10,000 grant from the Longmont Community Foundation to help pay for tools, supplies, and materials. Church members and others from the community have also donated another $12,000 to the church's flood recovery fund that pays for expenses that the foundation grant can't cover, such as a replacement sleep apnea machine for a man who lost his in the flood. John Rostykus, coordinator of the church's recovery efforts, says this work has been an opportunity for him to live out his spiritual gifts and for his congregation to live out its commitment to social justice.
"Every day I get to work with incredibly kind and giving volunteers who love this community deeply – enough to freely give of their time and energy to help people we didn't know until now," Rostykus said. "There is so much more to recovery than rebuilding structures. We have to create the space and opportunities for healing to happen, and that drives me."
Longmont UCC is also using its facility to house other volunteer groups coming to the area to help. Last week, the church hosted a crew of eight volunteers from Creede Community Church UCC in Creede, Colo., located about five hours away. In mid-December, they will host up to eight volunteers from St. John's UCC in Milan, Ohio, and for three months beginning in January will host Christian Aid Ministries, a Mennonite organization that will bring up to 25 volunteers a week to help rebuild homes in the area.
King, Rostykus and several other Longmont UCC volunteers are active members of the Longmont Long-Term Recovery Team, a newly-formed collaboration of many of the city's organizations. During a recent meeting, leaders estimated that full recovery could take 18 months to two years. While the road ahead may be long, King is not deterred. The church has a strong history of community missions and service, he said, and their community needs their service now more than ever before.
"In every disaster situation, you have to keep the story of what happened alive and that is part of what motivates us," said King. "We know we are in it for the long haul because we don't want anyone to be forgotten."