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News : AmeriCorp Sets Up Local Call Center to Connect Flood Survivors with Resources
Conroe, TX, USA, Nov 24, 2015 -- While May floods are merely a memory for some Montgomery County residents, others are still feeling the devastating toll.
In an effort to help those individuals still dealing with the loss and damage, the local United Way reached out to a corporation known for national community service called AmeriCorps.
"Not a lot of people remember but over Memorial Day weekend we had a huge rain storm and we had a number of homes that flooded here as a result," President of Montgomery County United Way Julie Martineau said. "FEMA comes in immediately after a flood to do an assessment and gives money to get back up to habitability. But sometimes (the damage and needs) exceeds funding available"
AmeriCorps representative Forrest Potter said the volunteer team, made up of people between the ages of 18- and 24-years old, deploy all over the country to help with different projects.
On Nov. 1 the National Civilian Community Corp branch of AmeriCorps arrived in Montgomery County and set up a call center at 9472 Airport Rd in Conroe.
The team began calling a list of 200 people who filed with FEMA and may still have unmet needs. While the organization will stay busy calling local residents until Dec. 16, it has also expanded the call list to 500 Liberty and 300 Walker County residents.
After the initial phone interview phase, the team goes on site to visit some of the homes of those still in need.
"We do a bit of manual labor but roofing and stuff like that gets technical," Potter said. "We mainly (will help with) smaller repairs like if ditches are blocked up with dirt we can come in and dig."
After phone and on-site assessments, AmeriCorps connects the residents to resources that can further aid them, like the United Way.
One of the ways AmeriCorps also connects residents is by contributing information to a large disaster relief database hosted by the American Red Cross, called the Coordinated Assistance Network or CAN.
"CAN database is a system that’s used by nonprofit organizations that work in disaster relief and it basically is like the big database that everyone has access to," Potter said. "When we get that information and put it into CAN it can get dispersed to a lot of organizations very quickly to get access to resources as soon as possible."
One of the most common needs in Montgomery County is mold remediation, Potter said.
"A lot of people don’t think that’s a very big priority but that can quickly affect your health," he said. "I’ve seen a lot of that and that’s something we really need to take care of. I definitely still saw people living in homes with mold."
Although the residents were aware of the potential health hazards associated with mold exposure, Potter said many were unable to address it.
"It’s a very unfortunate thing," he said. "But some people just don’t have the financial means to get out of that home. That’s why we are here to provide resources to help connect with people who can help get rid of mold or (provide) temporary housing to help while they repair their home."
Locally, Potter said that about 20 homes were considered high priority, such as having roofing issues, and the rest of the calls made were either no unmet needs or some unmet needs.
The first year volunteer said the organization is receiving more of a response from Liberty County residents willing to accept help.
He said this might be because residents in Montgomery County were initially cautious of the organization, but that the degree of need is so great in Liberty County that many may be more willing to accept outside help.
For those who the organization called and have reconsidered assistance, it is not too late. Potter encourages those individuals in immediate need to call United Way at 888-844-6289.
"I’m really excited United Way thought to reach out to us," Potter said. "I joined an organization and I wanted to do something different. It’s unfortunate because you never want to get a call that there’s been a disaster. I’m sad for the community going through that but I’m excited to get out there and be doing something about it."
Potter said Montgomery County has been welcoming.
"We get these calls and tell people what’s happening and some have no needs left and are still thanking us," he said. "It feels so good that the community is so open and accepting."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in intensive community service work with the goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community". Members commit to full-time or part-time positions offered by a network of nonprofit community organizations and public agencies, to fulfill assignments in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. The program is often compared to the Peace Corps as its domestic counterpart.
Published: Monday, November 30, 2015