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Rebuilding Hope: UMCOR, UMVIM aid Puerto Rico after 2017 hurricanes

As September 2019's Hurricane Dorian grazed Puerto Rico's coast, residents were relieved to be spared an encore of the historic, widespread destruction they suffered two years ago from hurricanes Maria and Irma, both of which struck in September 2017.

Puerto Rico's recovery has progressed slowly but steadily, thanks largely to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (Iglesia Metodista Puerto Rico) and the expertise, partnerships and resources it has gained and shared in that arduous effort. Leading the way is its "social holiness" ministry, the aptly named ReHACE (Rebuilding Communities with Hope — i.e., Rehaciendo Comunidades con Esperanza).

The MCPR has 100 churches and about a third of them were damaged by the storms. Yet clergy and lay members have focused on helping their neighbors and providing assistance and hospitality to U.S. volunteers since the first teams arrived.

ReHACE has deployed resources and work teams into 25 heavily populated areas, aided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. Of the more than 250,000 homes reportedly damaged, they have helped repair over 320 that were uninsured and not served by FEMA, aiding struggling residents who had nowhere else to turn.

UMCOR has provided crucial support in case management, along with ample funds and strategic planning assistance. It also trained over 200 local disaster response leaders. Since February 2018, more than 2,300 U.S. mission volunteers on 212 teams (as of August 2019) have provided well over 70,000 hours of labor, mostly to repair homes.

ReHACE hires local contractors as supervising foremen and bilingual translators to ease communication between English-speaking volunteers and their local coworkers and hosts.

The need is great for more UMVIM teams with skilled personnel, especially roofers. "Currently, there are 35,000 houses still covered with blue tarps," said UMCOR consultant Tymera Jackson, who helps UMVIM teams in the U.S. schedule their trips and fulfill requirements before they head to Puerto Rico.

"Rehabilitating Puerto Rico from Maria's destruction will take up to a decade, and our support must be in it for the long-term," said Tom Vencuss, mission and disaster response coordinator for the New York Conference. He coordinates UMVIM's work in Puerto Rico for UMCOR.

UMCOR is known for its long-term commitment to continue case management efforts long after other disaster response agencies have left the scene.

"We can rebuild our homeland together," said MCPR Bishop Hector Ortiz. "We are grateful for The United Methodist Church's support, especially for UMCOR and the volunteers who have come to help us recover. Over 4,000 of our people died from this tragedy; but we have actually saved lives, and now we have a comprehensive plan for full recovery."

excerpt form a story by John W. Coleman, communications director, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday 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.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.

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