When the deadly flood waters ravaged southern and central West Virginia in late June of 2016, communities were left not only with destroyed homes and roads, but also with emotional and social upheaval.

In the wake of the state’s “one thousand year event”, 44 out of the 55 counties were declared to be in a state of emergency by Gov. Earl Tomblin and a major disaster area by President Barack Obama. Roane and Jackson counties in the Mid-Ohio Valley were directly impacted.

Enter WV VOAD, West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. A state chapter of the National VOAD, the WV VOAD is a humanitarian association which consists of independent organizations whose goals include meeting the needs of their communities experiencing disaster. The VOAD’s primary role is to bring these member organizations together to enable them to work together in delivering necessary resources to those impacted by disaster.

Housing Relocation Program in Rainelle, WV. Photo courtesy of WV VOAD.

“The very mission of the organization is to deliver efficient streamlined services to those affected through our membership,” said Jenny Gannaway, WV VOAD’s Executive Director. Because of these effective services, VOAD is able to avoid dislocation and duplication of efforts. Resources are streamlined so they are more effectively used and spread throughout impacted regions rather than siloed into one region. Under the WV VOAD umbrella, some of the member organizations include American Red Cross, United Way, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities WV, and Neighbors Loving Neighbors.

Numerous recovery efforts have been administered by WV VOAD. “Every disaster, VOAD has responded to, whether it’s 10 houses or 1,000 houses,” added Ms. Gannaway. During the 2016 flood recovery efforts, the Sisters Health Foundation awarded WV VOAD a $155,500 Responsive Grant to hire a recovery coordinator and a construction manager to support the 22 Disaster Case Managers. Funds also provided support for emotional and spiritual care teams to attend to the mental health needs of flood victims and their families.

“Having a staff member devoted to community recovery efforts is vital,” said Bethany Bentley, WV VOAD’s Recovery Coordinator. “Being physically present in the beginning and continual recovery efforts, answering the many questions that arise, and giving suggestions and bringing members to the table at appropriate times are among some of the reasons I feel it is important to have someone remain in this role.”

Rebuilt home in Roane County. Photo courtesy of WV VOAD.

The addition of the Recovery Coordinator and the Construction Manager enabled WV VOAD to strengthen their capacity and leadership. This, in turn, encouraged the State and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to sub-grant the Disaster Case Management Grant to WV VOAD. Thus, WV VOAD helped every living family living in FEMA mobile homes complete their recovery plan and move back into their home before their scheduled move out date. This allowed for the State to close the FEMA housing program without any extensions, a savings of several hundred thousand dollars. Currently, WV VOAD is being highlighted as a national model by FEMA for its successes.

Through the Recovery Coordinator, organizing long term recovery, identifying funding, and liaising emotional and spiritual care teams are just a few of the ways unmet needs are addressed after a disaster. Along with the Construction Manager, whose role is to assure that supplies are available on site for the volunteers and that repairs are completed, the Recovery Coordinator works closely with the WV VOAD Bridge Program.

Preventing future flooding with the Bridge Project. Photo courtesy of WV VOAD.

“The intent behind this project is to provide a structure that is resilient to future storms”, explained Ms. Gannaway. The bridge project benefits families with limited resources as they have a safer way to access their home. “Children are able to attend school and have a safe way to cross the creek.  The elderly and disabled are able to attend appointments with their doctor and go to the grocery store.  The simple things become a huge challenge but the bridge project restores their connection to community life.”

According to Ms. Gannaway, WV VOAD had 2,081 flood recovery cases for help. They have closed 1,374 of them. “We still have a ways to go and we still have a lot of work,” she said. Thanks to skilled volunteer labor, 1114 homes have been completed and 66 are in progress. Currently, the total number of volunteer hours amount to over 531,000, a value of well over $10 million if calculated at $20 per hour.

Education and prevention are crucial in ensuring safety for communities. “Each county may look different,” continued Ms. Gannaway, “but there should be a unified effort to provide education and mock disasters quarterly to school systems, senior centers, business’s etc. By unifying in prevention education, we can help citizens stay safe.”

For more information, visit https://wvvoad.org/