Connect, Train, Volunteer

Date Posted: 12/19/2013

 “The sooner you start training, the better off you are.”


Volunteers should consider these words of advice from Greg Forrester, US Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). As 2013 drew to a close, Forrester called for volunteers to connect with their local communities, get training, and become better prepared to respond to disasters.

As UMCOR provided crucial help to survivors during the tragic aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as well as tornadoes in the US Midwest, Forrester said he heard many accounts of people who watched television news footage of these disasters, then spontaneously decided to volunteer without receiving training or guidance from UMCOR or another responding organization.


If you want to volunteer, you will help disaster survivors far more if you connect with your community before disaster strikes, he said. And, he added, “Whether you want to respond immediately or over the long-term, make sure you receive training and take your knowledge back to the local church level.”


An ideal way to start? The Connecting Neighbors Leadership Training Program, developed by UMCOR, is a two-day, local-church-readiness, train-the-trainer program designed to give volunteer trainers the tools and information they need to guide the development of local church disaster-response ministries.

Volunteers can also receive training by becoming part of UMCOR's Early Response or Care teams.


Lorna Jost, a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission jurisdictional coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction, agreed with Forrester that well-meaning people sometimes get off on the wrong foot when they jump into unplanned action after seeing wrenching news coverage of a disaster.


“I have people say, 'I don't understand why we are not there,' ” said Jost. “They see other groups on the news. Well, we are there—we are on the ground because of our local churches. We are there even though they don't see us in front of the cameras. We're working. We're doing what we should be doing. And we'll be there until the end.”


Volunteers—whether they are helping locally or out-of-state—should consider themselves guests in addition to being helpers, reflected Catherine Earl, an UMCOR US Disaster Response executive.


Volunteering in the wake of a disaster is not the same as volunteering on a mission trip, she said, because people's needs shift and change more rapidly in a post-disaster environment. "The project may have changed by the time the team arrives or may not be able to proceed as planned," Earl cautioned. "Volunteers need to be flexible and their expectations managed.”


Earl and other responders agreed that a volunteer-team leader who has been trained in disaster-related work plays a valuable role after a disaster. “The volunteer-team leaders have a tremendous responsibility not only recruiting their team but orienting them and helping them to understand that the disaster environment is very different.”


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