Text of Remarks Made at the City of Wimberley City Council Meeting – March 16, 2017
by Vicki McCuistion
The Barnabas Connection began as an outreach ministry of Wimberley United Methodist Church and became a separate 501c3 in 2013. Our primary goal is to connect people in need with resources to help them. We do that primarily through a volunteer staffed help line. We administer the Wimberley Ministerial Alliance Financial assistance fund – called Operation Good Shepherd. And we host a number of helpful events, including the Back to School Fiesta that provides free school supplies, backpacks, and payless shoes gift cards for 500 students attending school in Wimberley. We host an annual Christmas Store that provides Christmas assistance in a way that maintains dignity for the families it serves. We are sponsoring a mentoring program at Scudder Primary. We partner with local organizations on almost all of our events including the Senior Expo hosted last month. We also release a free print resource directory and will have it out in early May. We have advocated with PEC for better policies to help the low income and disabled in our community. And we continue to have a growing concern about access to quality affordable housing, that was exacerbated by the two flooding disasters – but that is a conversation for another time.
That Saturday night in May of 2015, We were on the ground at the high school helping gather resources for the families displaced to the gym. We were called that Monday following the flood to assist local officials with information distribution by sponsoring a facebook page and staffing an information table at Brookshires. That same week we were asked to receive financial donations to assist with rebuilding and recovery. We continued to provide information for several months and still share info through the FB page that has over 15000 followers. We provided emergency financial assistance through the gym and then at the Danforth FEMA center until the middle of July.
In June/July 2015 we sought and received a grant from The Kronkosky Foundation that funded two disaster case managers from August 2015 through March 2016. The Barnabas Connection transitioned clients from emergency response assistance to case managing the long term recovery and rebuilding needs in July, with case management staff starting August 1. Since that time, 148 Memorial Day and October clients have completed intakes to work with Barnabas case management staff. Each client is scored based on their resources and vulnerabilities and levels of funding are made available from Barnabas. Case managers then work with the client to understand their resources and their needs for recovery and rebuilding. As needs are prioritized, and gaps identified, the funding is used to assist with gaps the best it can. The case manager works with the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team Construction manager, Daryl Ready and the Barnabas Construction manager, Bill Tarwater to make resources stretch even farther. Volunteer teams under their supervision complete rebuilding and construction to decrease rebuilding costs. This is all dependent upon having volunteer teams available, and can be challenging with the numbers of needs and varying skill levels of the volunteers. We still have volunteer teams coming from across the country and have a number of teams in town currently over spring break.
Funding gaps have ranged from rebuilding costs, replacing appliances, fixing septic tanks, replacing winter clothes and household items, to helping with stressed household budgets— clients paying a mortgage and rent, two utility bills, etc. One of the challenges for the case manager is to separate needs caused by the flooding from needs that existed pre-flood. The case manager may need to help “stabilize” the client by providing referrals to other health and human services, but the funding provided from Barnabas flood recovery funds is to be directed to assist with recovering from the floods.
A case manager closes a case when needs caused by the flood have been met to the best ability of the available resources, and clients are back in their homes or stable in managing the remainder of their recovery. In my opinion, Wimberley is much farther along in the recovery process than San Marcos and Martindale areas because we were able to have dedicated disaster trained case managers on the ground within a few months and we were able to capitalize on the media attention and raise a substantial amount of money through financial donations that stayed in Wimberley. A lot of this was possible because the Wimberley City Manager, Don Ferguson asked for our help in key ways early on so we could get things in place in a timely fashion.
The State of Texas applied for case management support from the Federal government and received that in April 2016, almost a year later. The state contracted with Family Endeavors to do case management for all the communities (Central Texas, Houston area, Coastal Bend, and the Rio Grande Valley) impacted by flooding from the Memorial Day storms. We have had one case manager from Family Endeavors working out of our office since that time. Their contract ends in May but a 90 day extension is being requested by the State for at least Central Texas.
Of the 432 Memorial Day FEMA registrations, 144 were worked and contacted by Barnabas, 223 were assigned to Family Endeavors, and 31 still need to be verified as not needing assistance. Currently 59 Memorial Day and 7 October cases are being worked by two case managers in Wimberley, one of which is funded by Barnabas.
330 Memorial Day and All Saints day clients received financial assistance from Barnabas. 148 clients have accessed case management services. Currently, 91 Memorial day and 11 October cases have been completed and closed. It has been a great joy for Barnabas staff to participate in multiple house blessings and celebrations as families move back into their homes! Eight Memorial Day cases are on hold as the clients have not determined whether they will rebuild.
As we have worked with our clients we have strongly encouraged home owners to cooperate with the advisory flood maps, elevate their homes and obtain flood insurance. It has been very clear to us that the recovery time for clients with flood insurance was much shorter compared to those without. Our assistance to clients has ranged from minimal involvement and financial support of $1000 to intense involvement of 10 months to a year and financial support of up to $20000 with a few exceptions. All of this is again based on the level of need and vulnerability. Our funding has been dedicated to flood caused damage and restoring clients into safe and secure living environments. We have participated in 2 ground up rebuilds in partnership with Cypress Creek Church. Other jobs have included complete remodels with rewiring, plumbing, flooring, drywall, etc.
Over the last few months, Barnabas has still encountered new clients from Memorial Day and October flooding that have not completed intakes but need assistance. However we feel we are nearing the end. We anticipate being complete within 6 months depending on the clients we have that have been waiting to rebuild.
It has been an honor for us to be involved in the recovery and rebuilding of Wimberley. Going forward, it is vital that city and community leaders complete an after action report about the longterm rebuilding and recovery process so when a flood or disaster happens again we know in advance how we want to respond.
We have learned a lot form this experience, good and bad and we should take advantage of that knowledge while we can.
I was the Wimberley representative that participated with other community leaders at the direction of county and state officials to create an organization tasked with aiding in the recovery and response from disasters that impact Hays, Blanco, Caldwell, and Guadalupe counties. I was on the board of directors of the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team until earlier this month, when I tendered my resignation. As I mentioned earlier Barnabas continues to work with the BR3T as they help supervise the construction and provide volunteers to do the work, while we case manage and fund the projects in Wimberley.
The strength and viability of the BR3T will be key in future disasters. We also cannot count on FEMA being involved in every disaster and providing the level of financial support that they did in our two previous floods. It is my understanding that the threshold for qualifying as a FEMA disaster is going to be much bigger and more difficult and so the recovery will fall even more to the local community and county and state leaders. This makes the advisory flood maps and obtaining flood insurance even more important.
As I mentioned previously Don Ferguson was very helpful to us as we served our clients and was great to work with. His knowledge of the disaster recovery process was very important to this community’s recovery. I encourage the City Council as you interview new hires to seek someone who has similar knowledge and experience with disasters so our community has the best tools at hand if disaster strikes again.
I also ask you when you can, to be supportive of the work of our local nonprofits as the safety net we help provide makes our community stronger and safer.
Thank you for your time and consideration.