BY DAVID FISHER
Members of the Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group hosted a Community Recovery Update for the public on Thursday, January 19, 2023, at the McWherter Civic Center in Dresden.
The Recovery Group described the process involved in assisting local citizens impacted by the Dec. 10, 2021 tornado that damaged or destroyed numerous Weakley County homes, businesses and government buildings.
The meeting included a brief overview of WCLTRG partnerships, the introduction of board members, and a financial summary of work accomplished during 2022.
As the meeting got underway, each of the board members serving on the Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group addressed the audience and utilized a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the current status of the recovery process.
WCLTRG secretary Joyce Washington explained how the Recovery Group has been involved since around March of 2022. She used the PowerPoint slides to show how NOVAD, which is a nationwide volunteer organization for disaster, is working with communities to help recover from disasters.
She said, “Immediately after a disaster, you have volunteer agencies – non-profits – that often provide emergency food, shelter, clothing, and medical needs.” Washington stated these emergency needs are sometimes provided for two or three weeks or sometimes just a couple of days, depending upon the size of the event.
“Then the next step in the recovery involves insurance, which is the private piece of the recovery. This includes homeowners and national flood and earthquake insurance” Joyce Washington said.
“The next possible piece of recovery involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which involves government potentially helping people through their recovery.
“There are applications. There is a process. They offer assistance with temporary housing, repair assistance, and permanent or semi-permanent construction.
“After FEMA, there are other state and federal agencies that might also assist with medical, dental, funeral, and other needs that survivors may have,” Washington said.
She noted, one of these sources, is the Small Business Administration. “They help with evaluations and try to help pull communities together and through their recovery,” she said. “There is a process. There are applications and requirements that have to be met for both FEMA and SBA.
“After you’ve worked through those two processes, you come to the place that we are today, which is a volunteer group trying to assist the community with unmet needs.
“What are unmet needs? Unmet needs are those needs that were not fulfilled through insurance, FEMA, SBA, or the Red Cross.
“When all of those other agencies and entities have exhausted whatever assistance that they might be able to provide, what is left is determined to be unmet survivor needs. And yes, there is still a process to go through in order to qualify for those types of assistance.
Addressing the audience, Washington said, “We’re happy to have you here tonight and we hope you will leave enlightened with a better understanding of what the Weakley County Long-Term has done, and what we hope to do as we go forward.”
The next speaker was Weakley County Emergency Management Director Justin Crice, who serves as co-chair of the Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group.
“On December 10th, like many of you, I was taking cover, because I was under a tornado warning too” Crice said. “I live in Martin. The next day, I was at The Rotary ham breakfast in Martin, Josh Moore came up to me and said the south side of the Dresden Square is destroyed. Kountry Korner is gone.
“I felt helpless. It was a moment in time I will never forget, and I was not directly affected by the tornado. I asked myself, ‘how can I help? How can I be of assistance?
Crice said that he called former Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn and Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, and asked, “How can I help? How can I be of assistance?”
He recalled the sense of urgency members of the community felt at the beginning of the recovery was something everybody united around.
“That day, I went to a church member’s house that was directly affected by the tornado, and it had completely wiped their house away. It’s demolished now. I helped them move their possessions into a storage unit behind EW James in Dresden. We did that all day, and we did it the next day. And there was still work to be done.
“After the immediate response, I’m wondering, ‘how can I be a better help?’ Mayor Bynum asked me to help co-chair the Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group, and I’m honored to participate with this group. It takes time. It takes a long time, and we still have a long road to go.
“The Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group is a cooperative volunteer committee that is comprised of representatives from community faith-based groups, volunteers, and other organizations working to help individuals and families, as they recover from disasters.
“We work in Partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief – UMCOR, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA.
“We work with disaster survivors to help identify and assist recovery efforts for those who are affected by the tornado and storms in Dresden and also Weakley County at-large.
“So let me walk you through a little bit of the timeline. In March of 2022, we were formed and our subcommittees were formed.
“In April of 2022, we established modes of survivor contact for case management. The training for case managers began. We applied for a Red Cross grant application to help out with our capacity needs.”
“We have volunteers who are doing this for no pay and no money, and we had to expand our capacity.
“We ended up receiving that Red Cross Grant. One of the things we’ve got to expand the capacity needs is a program coordinator.” He stated this position was filled by Misti Pequignot. “And, we’ve received money for storage space and operating expenses. That was a need. We saw it; we went after it; and we got it.
“In May of 2022, we had volunteers and donation coordination, management training ongoing, funding from organizations, and we finalized that process, so we could start distributing money.
“In the summer of 2022, during June, July and August, we had coordination of volunteer groups, donation and Recovery Center oversight, and our case management was fully staffed.
“We’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are today. I want to give special thanks to Joyce Washington, who was there at the beginning, and also our co-chair, Alisha Melton.
“In February of last year, I saw her at a meeting, and I said I’m going to need help with this long-term. She said ‘Okay. Do you need me to co-chair?’ I said probably. And she volunteered for the job. She also serves as our allocations committee chair.”