Joyful Partnership in Disaster Recovery

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…” Philippians 1:5-6

When World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) enters a disaster-impacted community, volunteers are there to be the hands and feet of Jesus while repairing homes. Ultimately, DRS joins with compassionate, local community members in working to bring healing and restore hope after disasters.

As a Category-4 hurricane, Ian brought 81 mph winds and 15 inches of rainfall to Sarasota County, Florida on September 28th, 2022. Due to record-breaking crests of multiple rivers, the area also experienced considerable flooding. Altogether, these factors created challenges for the southwest Florida community. Many business owners lost their livelihoods. Homeowners had the roofs torn off their homes or had water damage to their belongings. Some even lost family members or friends.

Despite disheartening circumstances, homeowners affected by Ian experienced the care of their neighbors. Not long after the storm, the Sarasota County Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) was formed. The organization works to strengthen area-wide disaster coordination through preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation. Many community members quickly joined the group to help people devastated by Ian, including mental health professionals, pastors, local government staff, human services groups, and others.

The LTRG members began learning about disaster response and exploring the best avenues for recovery. A previous group member shared, “After individuals had exhausted all areas of help, we knew homeowners still had unmet needs, especially entire homes needing to be rebuilt.”

This is when the Sarasota LTRG collaborated with DRS to conduct an unmet needs assessment: a community assessment that provides data for holistic recovery. For two weeks in May 2023, DRS volunteers interviewed 273 clients about their disaster-related needs. These interviews helped survivors process how the hurricane affected their life and home, and gave them time for sharing, encouragement, and prayer.

The assessment revealed that Hurricane Ian survivors in Sarasota County still had more than $4.6 million of unmet financial need eight months after the storm. The data collected during an assessment like this one can provide an exact number of walls damaged, kitchen chairs or mattresses needed, and other specific needs for each homeowner. The collective data helps case managers organize resources and create recovery plans for the survivors who desperately need quick assistance.

With an unmet needs assessment completed, the Sarasota LTRG began to plan to deploy DRS reconstruction teams. Finally, a year later, homeowners were able to start living in safe and secure homes again! In the fall of 2023, DRS volunteers traveled to Sarasota to renovate the children’s ministry building at Lakeside Lutheran Church (LLC). The church is one of our local partners and an LTRG member. DRS volunteers turned the children’s ministry building into housing for volunteer teams of up to 20 people.

LLC graciously hosted DRS volunteer teams for six months as they repaired 24 damaged homes that were assigned to them by the Sarasota LTRG as a result of the unmet needs assessment DRS volunteers completed earlier. Hilda Dutton, director of disaster recovery and resiliency at South Sarasota County United Way shared, “As local agencies, we play a part in disaster recovery, but the volunteer work from World Renew is truly the glue that holds this effort together.” As part of Christ’s body, World Renew prays for the church as it engages with God’s outreach to the world. DRS is thankful that LLC’s Pastor Dave, his family, and other church members were involved in our disaster recovery ministry every step of the way.

When DRS reconstruction teams are staying at a worksite, breakfast each day includes devotions and prayer time. The practice helps ground volunteers for the home repairs and ministry to take place that day. Bob, an LLC member, was inspired by DRS volunteers that travel to worksites, giving their time to serve disaster survivors. In gratitude, Bob served DRS volunteers every morning at breakfast by serving food, refilling coffee and beverages, and cleaning up after breakfast. Always sporting a motivational shirt and a smile, Bob’s presence was just one of many ways volunteers were encouraged by the fellowship they experienced with brothers and sisters in Christ at Lakeside Lutheran Church.

LLC didn’t just serve DRS volunteers at mealtimes, they cooked delicious weekly dinners for volunteers after long days of hard work. At dinner, Pastor Dave, the LTRG staff, and other people shared motivating highlights about the volunteer’s efforts in the community, and brought along church members for mid-week fellowship and encouragement. “It is a blessing from the Lord to host DRS as they serve the Sarasota County community,” Pastor Dave said. “We have seen real needs met and souls encouraged when people were at the end of their ropes because of this hurricane. Jesus is restoring joy here through World Renew DRS, and we are more than grateful!”

Ultimately, LLC didn’t just find ways to serve DRS volunteers; some church members actually became part of our volunteer community. Jameson, Pastor Dave’s son, is a senior in high school who became enthusiastic about DRS during the reconstruction work, and wore his green DRS shirt at every Sunday morning service. Just days after turning 18, Jameson eagerly submitted a DRS volunteer application, hoping to join our efforts to help his community. During the last team of the work season, Jameson joined our volunteers for a day, learning reconstruction skills and having a blast. “Jameson had a great time on-site and was very helpful to our team,!” said Onsite Manager Dee Scott.

After one season in Sarasota County, we’ve reflected with gratitude on the incredible community that we’ve joined to help restore hope after Hurricane Ian. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” and we are thankful that he has prepared them in advance for DRS to do alongside the Sarasota County community.