Monday, December 31, 2007

12/31 What a year

Of course this is the time for reflection. My life has changed so much in the past year.

Toward the end of 2006 I quit a job I loved in order to do disaster work. Because the pay was low, Rob and Beata offered me a place to stay. So temporarily I went to NC and stayed with them while I did disaster mental health work for the Red Cross.

At the beginning of 2007, that's where I was. My "stuff" was still in storage in Milwaukee, but my body and heart were in NC. A friend recommended I apply for a job as the state director for disaster services for Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response in Mississippi.

Mississippi? I couldn't imagine myself living there. Mississippi? A horrible literacy rate, horrible poverty rate, horrible history of race relations. Mississippi?

But the job description intrigued me. So I applied.

In January they flew me to Austin to meet with the vice-presidents. Then they flew me to New Orleans and Biloxi to meet with the director of Lousiana and the guy who was leaving the Mississippi job.

In February I was working for the Red Cross at the Ground Hog Day Tornadoes in Florida, when I got the call offering me the job. By then I'd decided I wanted it, so I said yes.

March 1 I began by flying to Austin for orientation. The next weekend I drove from NC to Biloxi, MS. My home for the first week was an extended stay hotel, then for the next month I stayed in an RV. I bought a house immediately and closed on Friday the 13th of April.

The week prior to moving into my new home I drove back to NC to pick up my new puppy. Quincy is a full-blooded yellow lab and absolutely beautiful. I'd been able to pick her out when she was 10 days old prior to leaving NC. She stayed with me in my RV before moving into the house.

In August, I took Quincy to the Humane Society and let her pick out our next puppy--a chocolate lab mix named Cookie. It was so cool letting Q pick out her sister.

So many changes in such a short time--WI, NC, MS, Red Cross, LSSDR, hotel, RV, new home, puppy, puppy.

Surprisingly I absolutely love the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The view is absolutely breathtaking and the people are lovely and warm. It's so different from what I imagined.

The job is as well. I know how to do disaster work. I know how to manage a not-for-profit. But I think I was ill-prepared for this job. Tomorrow it will be 10 months since I began. After a lot of rocky places--some self-inflicted, some caused by others--I'm comfortable with the job. I finally understand more about the construction end of things, and I'm more familiar with how case management runs in long term recovery. There are four different boards of directors that I sit on, and this keeps me well-informed about what's happening locally and state wide. But I have so much to learn, and this job keeps dosing out humility in huge bunches.

Working for a faith-based organization is good in so many ways. We can pray anytime we want, and we often do before meetings. That's helpful because we deal with so many difficult situations. It's not just the lives of our clients that I'm talking about, although that is so very important. After all, it's been 2 1/2 years since Katrina and thousands of folks are still in the formaldehyde-infested FEMA trailers. Others live in unsafe homes that has mold everywhere. Still more are homeless--entire families who were barely scraping by prior to the storm are now without shelter. It's so sad, and there's so much work to do. It's especially hard because most of the US thinks that the Gulf Coast is recovered from the storm.

But I'm also talking about our staff members, many of them storm survivors too. They not only deal with their own issues of lives irrevocably changed but they help others as well. That takes such incredible strength.

The heartening news is that, even though many DROs (Disaster Relief Organizations) are gone because of diminished funding, there are still many organizations working to repair the damage. Nothing will ever be the same, but we're striving for the "new normal."

I live in hope. Hope that the remaining funds will be well spent for low to moderate income people, those without insurance or with cowardly insurance companies that refused to pay for wind and flood damage. Hope that current DROs will be able to remain beyond when the federal funding for case management stops on March 31. Hope that our dedicated and impassioned staff members take good care of themselves in preparation for more hard work. Hope that politics--both governmental and religious--doesn't get in the way of us providing good service to those in need. Hope that another hurricane season will come and go without event. Hope that courageous people, like those in the Steps Coalition, continue to stand up to injustice and hypocrisy. Hope that God answers our prayers.

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