Story by Shannon Taylor Senior Investigative Reporter
The Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group (WCLTRG) held their first community recovery update on Jan. 19 at the Civic Center in Dresden with a small crowd attending and very few survivors in attendance. This is their first community update since their inception in March 2022.
Secretary Joyce Washington opened the meeting with information on NVOAD (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters) which is a nationwide organization who work with communities around disasters.
Washington spoke on the NVOAD individual assistance sequence of delivery and said that at the top is volunteer agencies that provide emergency food, shelter, clothing and medical needs. Then the next step is insurance such as homeowners and NFIP. The next step is where FEMA and SBA come in and then after that there are other state agencies that might come in and assist. Washington stated that those are the steps of recovery for a community in the order that they must go through.
After all of those steps are met, if a survivor has any needs that have not yet been met, that is where WCLTRG steps in. “There is a process. There are applications and requirements that have to be met for both FEMA and SBA. And after you work with those two processes, you come to the place that we are today which is a volunteer group trying to assist the community with unmet needs.”
Co-chair Justin Crice spoke next and explained who the WCLTRG is and that what they are is “in the name-long term is a long time.” Crice explained that “WCLTRG is a cooperative volunteer committee comprised of representatives from community faith-based groups, local volunteers, and other organizations working to help individuals and families as they recover from disaster.”
WCLTRG works in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and with disaster survivors to help with recovery efforts.
The timeline starts with the formation of WCLTRG in March of 2022 where all committee and subcommittees were formed. In April of 2022 they established modes of survivor contact, UMCOR case managers began training and they applied for a Red Cross grant to help out with their capacity needs, which they received. In May of 2022 they had volunteer groups and donations coordination, case manager training and allocations funding organizations finalized. In Summer 2022 they had coordination of volunteer groups, donations, Recovery Center oversight and case management fully staffed.
Crice stated, “We’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are today.”
Co-chair and allocations director Alisha Melton spoke next and explained her role in allocations, “I serve as a liaison between the funders who hold the money and case management who identifies the needs.”
The WCLTRG’s funding partners include the Dresden Church of Christ, Dresden Rotary Club, First Baptist Church of Dresden, Greenfield Church of Christ, Lebanon Church of Christ, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Way, Weakley County Baptist Association and TWKUMC (Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference).
According to Melton, these funders have provided over $200,000 in financial assistance, served over 70 households and distributed donated appliances, furniture, food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and clothing.
In breaking apart the funding allocations, construction has accounted for $71,456 of monies, furniture and appliance have accounted for $57,898 of funds, home repairs for $27,500 of funds, Housing for $12,420 of funds, Personal care for $18,603 in funds, supplies for $16,714 of funds, Storage for $900 of funds, auto for $7,078, making a total of $212,853.00 spent thus far in funds spent.
This is a far cry from the almost million dollars in funding that was accounted for previously by donors from organizations and GoFundMe’s, however, the press has been made aware that some organizations have grown tired of waiting on the long process of WCLTRG and have resorted to helping survivors that come to them for help and not going through WCLTRG to speed up the process of getting survivors the assistance they need. Melton said that funders still retain the ability to help survivors outside of WCLTRG, “especially those things that might help benefit the community as a whole.”
Melton said that one funder chose to pay for a track hoe and some grating to be done to benefit the city of Dresden. Melton did not state who the funder was or if the funder used monies that were donated with the intention of use for survivors.
Melton said that everyone on WCLTRG is “doing this for the right reasons.” Melton said that she was aware of “a lot of criticism” and that they are “not perfect” but that none of them had ever experienced anything like what happened and that “we were doing the best we could.”
Robert Craig from UMCOR spoke next on case management. The first step is for a survivor to contact WCLTRG then there is the intake process and eligibility for case management determination which is then forwarded to a case worker. The next step is for the case manager and client to identify an unmet need and a path forward then the case manager coordinates with other WCLTRG committees and resources to meet a client’s needs. The next step is to see if all rebuilds/repairs and other needs were met and if not, the case goes before the unmet needs committee for review. The case manager then coordinates with relevant committees which utilize resources provided by the unmet needs committee. At the end of those steps, they determine that the client’s needs have been met and the case is closed. Craig said that currently WCLTRG has 51 open cases and 79 closed cases.
Will Norrid, spiritual and emotional needs chair spoke next stating what some of the community stated was the most important message of the night. Norrid said, “The physical rebuild has obviously not been as fast as people wanted it. It’s not been as hassle free as you would’ve wanted it, but when this is all over, we’re all going to have to live here together.” Norrid went on to say that everyone has dealt with this in different ways and had different approaches but that he hopes everyone has the interests of Dresden at heart.
The meeting closed with people having an opportunity to talk with members of WCLTRG one on one afterwards, but many of the people WCP spoke with hoped that in future sessions that they offer a question-and-answer opportunity publicly during the forum.
No future date has yet been set for the next forum.