Hurricane Irma may have left Volusia County one year ago but the after effects, including those of Hurricane Matthew, are still being felt.
Denia McCurtis has lived in Daytona Beach most of her life and was raised in the home she still lives in, which suffered major hurricane damage from Irma.
“I was becoming very discouraged,” she said. “The roof damage was so bad, the ceilings were cracked. The water was extending from the living room into my closet.”
Then a phone call brought help in the most giving form.
“The phone rang out of the clear blue (from VIND) asking if I needed any help. I said, 'Sure!' Norm (Beatty) worked with me side by side,” she said. “Before I knew it, the volunteers were here. They were so nice. It took about two and a half months before everything was completed. I am just totally blessed.”
VIND, which stands for Volusia Interfaith Agencies Networking in Disaster, is a not-for-profit organization that networks with other agencies and Interfaiths to help Volusia County’s long-term disaster recovery.
VIND still has some Matthew work left to do, but with Irma, many Matthew victims became revictimized, said Terry Foley, VIND program coordinator.
Hundreds of homes remain in need of roof or interior repairs.
“Everybody works together no matter what faith denomination,” Ms. Foley said. “We are here to help the client recover from a disaster.”
VIND uses donated resources, meaning building materials and funding along with skilled laborers to help rebuild homes and lives.
“We have developed a volunteer housing facility and we house volunteers from all over the country that come to work on VIND projects,” said David Heald, northern regional disaster coordinator for the United Church of Christ (UCC).
“We have developed a volunteer housing facility and we house volunteers from all over the country that come to work on VIND projects,” said Mr. Heald, who works with his home base in Holly Hill.
The UCC also provides financial assistance to VIND.
Mr. Heald attributed delays in finishing repairs to the idea that Volusia County has fallen off the radar as other disasters and crisis situations occur around the world, with the focus of where to help with manpower or resources changing constantly.
“We’ve just been forgotten” he said. “You may not even know neighbors two blocks away need help.”
Help starts at home, said Steve Heath, pastor of United Church of Christ in Holly Hill.
“Our church is glad that a congregation of our size is able to be so involved in such an important ministry to the community,” he said, adding he feels it is ironic that people often want to go “over there” wherever over there is, rather than going right down the street to help folks.
Zachary Wolgemuth who is visiting from Pennsylvania is the Executive for United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries, which is a ministry of the entire denomination of the UCC of approximately 5,000 churches across the United States.
The primary role of the ministry is to support locally led long term recovery efforts, such as what is being coordinated through VIND. He is in town accompanied by Olivia Tiffoche from Church World Service to connect with local partners and see how recovery efforts are coming along.
“We try to recruit teams that have availability to come and volunteer for a week or more at a time and then they would stay in the volunteer housing and work with VIND to help repair homes for people that can’t afford to hire a contractor, that have gone through FEMA insurance, folks that would fall through the cracks. It is a last resort for many people.
“It is not about the United Church of Christ. It is not even about VIND. It is about people helping people. It is about humanity and doing the right thing. Volunteerism brings people together. At some point in our lives all of us need help.” He added he has heard volunteers say things like “I gave a shovel full but I got a wheelbarrow in return.”
Nine AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers also are in town working on homes.
“We are a group of 18-24-year-old volunteers that travel the country. It is a government agency that travels and does work in communities,” said Pierce Curran, team leader. “We focus on environmental conservation, disaster relief, infrastructure development and urban and rural development.
“We are a here for a few weeks working with VIND to try to rebuild some houses for people affected by the hurricanes. It is incredibly gratifying.”
VIND can always use cash assistance for materials and skilled laborers. One large portion of these projects is the construction stage.
Third phase recovery is long-term and can take years. Needs can be vastly different than when a disaster first strikes, with the emergency/rescue phase followed by shelter phase.
Even with no additional storms, it could still be at least two years before Volusia homes are fully back to a new normal.
For more information on VIND visit www.floridavind.org.