Long-term committee looks ahead

Published 12:06 am Monday, March 27, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
The Escambia County Long-Term Committee was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan as a means to offer assistance to eligible residents of Escambia County affected by Ivan. Last year, Sarah Atkeison, who had extensive Healthcare management experience, was hired as a coordinator for projects in Atmore.
"The committee was given a list of clients who needed further assistance from FEMA when they left the area," Atkeison said. "I have a list of 200 names of people who still need our help just from Hurricane Ivan. The committee itself has pretty much disbanded and United Way of Southwest Alabama funds my position and it is almost up. I don't know what is going to happen at that time."
The committee, which operates under the umbrella of the Escambia County Health Authority, is now trying to form a separate organization that will allow them to act on their own, according to Atkeison.
At the present time, First United Methodist Church in Atmore is the only church that is actively involved in the long-term recovery efforts.
"As far as the committee, we thought that we would be finished by this time," Dr. Doug Newton, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Atmore said. "These money do not have the money to fix their homes and we are offering them the grace of God through this ministry. But our church cannot do it alone. We are having difficulties getting the funds to pay for the expenses, such as electric and water and other office expenses."
According to Atkeison, the committee has enough money to buy the needed supplies and materials to repair the homes, but because the money was donated specifically for those items, it cannot be used for the other bills incurred by the office located in the Vickery house.
"We have received donations from many disaster relief agencies and private organizations and individuals," Atkeison said. "But we need money to operate on. The biggest part of the money is now coming from the Governor's disaster relief plan that is funded through the Department of Human Resources. That money is more flexible. We can pay rent for some one or buy a used mobile home with it."
Another problem the committee has is the lack of volunteers. Atkeison has had several teams to come in over the year, but not enough to fill the many work orders she has.
This past week she has been able to get a lot accomplished with the help of the Boca Raton school group and another group of five people from Grand Rapids, Mich.
They are from Riverside Christian Reformed Church in Michigan and have spent the week working alongside the Boca teenagers. This particular group wears a green shirt that is now known all around since the influx of increased disasters. They represent the three C's: Christian, caring and compassion.
Husband and wife teams, Al and Lois Dykema and Roger and Karen Koenes, accompanied by their 84-year-old former pastor, Rev. John Moes were astonished over the destruction they experienced as they rode through the coast.
"This is our first hurricane mission," Lois Dykema said. "We are just overwhelmed and can't imagine that so much damage remains 18 months after the fact. We have been touched this week."
The group of five came in travel trailers and has spent the week parked behind the Vickery house where the Boca teens are staying.
Atkeison is hopeful that the committees mission will be able to continue ministry to the many people affected by the hurricanes. However, she can't help but think about the needs increasing as we approach the start of what is being predicted as another above average hurricane season.
If you are interested in volunteering or contributing financially you can contact Sarah Atkeison at 368-5390.

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