The half-dollar-sized coins given out at Monday’s Hurricane Michael Recovery Conference in Marianna have no monetary power but for some who received them, the weighty burnished gold disks are priceless talismans of great value.
They bestowed an extra measure of encouragement on a journey that has been difficult, frustrating, exhausting, and in many respects has only just begun these eight months in. Almost everyone in the full-house crowd that day has been, and continues to be, involved in the region’s struggle to find a new normal in the wake of that Category 5 storm that churned in strong and stayed that way long enough to take out cotton crops, destroy homes, devastate tree farms large and small, and in doing so, alter lives.
The people in the room, many of whom had damage of their own, have been helping others find places to live, fill out daunting amounts of paperwork, connect to state, federal and local resources in multiple phone calls. And many have embraced the distressed as they let their burdens fall away in tears for brief moments of relief from the tension they’ve been living under since Oct. 10, 2018.
One side of the coin these community soldiers received featured an anchor, to illustrate the roles they’ve played in keeping so many in their community tethered to hope.
And it was also chosen as a reminder of, and touchstone to encourage them in, their mission going forward in the months and years to come.
The group bestowing those coins is made up itself of disaster warriors from all around the country who united to form the Disaster Leadership Team which deploys in such critical circumstances around the nation. They’ve all been through some crisis of their own-wildfires, floods, tornadoes and, yes, hurricanes.
They’ve been sharing their hard-won expertise with the region since late 2018, and Monday was the first day of a three-day conference where many of them will be meeting, for the first time, the people they’ve been guiding remotely for all these months.
Monday’s session focused on the importance of data collection, as proper documentation of need is an invaluable tool in justifying grant applications and other reach-outs for assistance in helping people recover.
The day also featured tips and stories about disaster case management, what the Team calls “the nucleus of disaster recovery.”
That information will come in handy soon as the Jackson/Calhoun communities begin, through their joint North Florida Inland Long Term Recovery Group, to deploy case managers to assist individuals and families in finding help with their needs still unmet 32 weeks after the storm.
FEMA and other agencies had boots on the ground almost immediately after the storm and much has been accomplished but much is left to be done.
The LTR, made up mainly of volunteers and local governmental representatives, along with newly- hired Executive Director Kristy Terry, has charged itself with carrying the ball the rest of the way. The group includes professionals, business leaders, members of helping organizations, stay-at-home moms, and many others from various walks of life. The overall group has formed 10 subcommittees that focus primarily on a single aspect of the continuing need so that all the ground is adequately covered.
The conference continued Tuesday and concluded Wednesday. Tuesday was to feature “nuts and bolts of repairs and rebuild.” Wednesday was to focus on “creative funding” strategies for meeting needs that remain, and n volunteer management.
Each day also featured networking and breakout sessions.