Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nonprofit groups bridge aid gaps for flood victims

By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • June 27, 2010

In early March, Caryn Hill wanted to give back to the community and reached out to Habitat for Humanity. A long admirer of the nonprofit homebuilding organization, Hill wanted to know how her family could help.

"I never thought a month or two later, they'd be there to offer us assistance," Hill said.

The Hills, who live in Hermitage, are among approximately 40 Nashville-area homeowners who applied for the Habitat's ReConstruct program. It sends volunteers to flood-damaged areas for reconstruction projects.

It's one of several nonprofit programs taking shape as volunteer efforts settle in for the long months ahead to help families and neighborhoods try to rebuild. The programs are trying to fill a gap where federal aid and insurance coverage falls short.

Local Habitat CEO Chris McCarthy said the number of applicants is expected to grow as the organization, traditionally known for building affordable homes for lower-income families, ramps up its flood recovery efforts.

The group is trying to help homeowners who suffered enough damage that they can't do the work on their own, but not so much that the project is a total reconstruction. Homeowners are eligible if they have up to $40,000 in remaining repair costs.

The Hills, who suffered extensive damage to their basement walls, cabinets and doorways, are first in line, and work crews are expected to begin Monday.

"Obviously, there are many families out there that cannot afford to build or have significant gaps in their ability to rebuild after applying for (Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance and Small Business Administration loans)," McCarthy said. "So, Habitat is here to help with those efforts."

The program needs additional funds to help more families. A $50,000 grant from the Tennessee Association of Realtors helped get things started.

Victims need partners
Jennifer Cole, who serves as the head of human services for Mayor Karl Dean's flood recovery team, said Metro is directing flood victims to private groups who can help rebuild.

"We know that for so many people, the money they're getting from federal aid and insurance is not quite covering their needs, and we know we'll need to partner with programs like Habitat to help stretch dollars for homeowners," Cole said.

Hands On Nashville and the local Lutheran Services chapter are among groups planning reconstruction programs they will offer in the coming months.

Two housing facilities are scheduled to open in August for as many as 160 volunteers that Lutheran Services expects to come to town. The group, partnering with the United Methodist Church, expects skilled general contractors, electricians and construction workers from across the country to volunteer, Lutheran Services in Tennessee Executive Director Kathy Thoreson said.

"They'll be skilled in several different areas, and they'll go to homes that have that need that was not met and they'll help with the process," Thoreson said.

Cole said the Long Term Recovery Team meets Monday to discuss logistics for a case management program so that flood victims can receive the appropriate resources to meet their individual needs. In addition to reconstruction help, the committee also will direct victims to counseling and other social services.

"We would plug them into the right organization to help them rebuild," Cole said.

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