Fire Recovery: "Living Out My Faith"

For Michelle White Eagle, helping people plan their recovery from wildfires has "changed how I look at living out my faith." White Eagle attended case management training offered by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Spokane, Wash., and has since been helping with long-term recovery in her community.

"I see people caught in these places of despair, not even knowing how to step out to help themselves, and I've had to build a relationship with them in order to help them rebuild their lives and show them there is hope," she wrote.

White Eagle is one inspiring person who is part of a large recovery from wildfires that swept through central Washington in July and August 2014. Okanogan County was hit particularly hard by the Carlton Complex Fire, which at that time was the largest wildfire in Washington state history. It burned more than 250,000 acres, destroying more than 300 homes.  About 250 primary residences were destroyed, and case managers like White Eagle determined that 55 percent of the homeowners were uninsured. 

In July and August 2015, wildfires again struck the county, setting a new record for number of acres burned. About 200 residences were burned, and an even higher percentage were uninsured.

UMCOR is making a $90,000 grant available to the Pacific Northwest Conference to serve as the foundation for a creative fundraising effort by the conference. The goal is to raise enough money for construction materials and professional services to rebuild six homes, one by each of the six districts of the conference. The cost comes to $75,000 per home, with labor donated by volunteers.

The match works like this. Each of the districts has accepted the challenge to raise the funds to rebuild one house. When a district raises $15,000, UMCOR will match that amount, until all six districts have done so and the UMCOR match totals $90,000. The districts will then raise another $45,000 each to cover the remaining costs of the construction.

The matching grant effort is an innovative strategy, said Greg Forrester, UMCOR executive in charge of U.S. disaster response. "District involvement in disaster recovery — the donors' connection with local families recovering from the fires — is at the heart of rebuilding these homes."

As each district follows a family whose home is being rebuilt, their story will be shared as a way sharing a close-to-home example of disaster recovery, he added. "UMCOR is looking forward to seeing the results of this approach to mission-driven fundraising."

Susan Kim, journalist and regular contributor to www.umcor.org

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, One Great Hour of Sharing calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR's "costs of doing business." This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

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