EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
In September, a few Highland Lakes clergy attended an Austin Disaster Relief Network workshop to learn how to create a similar network among area churches. The Rev. Jackie English was scheduled to present what he had learned during that eight-hour training session to the Marble Falls Ministerial Alliance on Oct. 23.
However, a week before, on Oct. 16, a flood rampaged through the Highland Lakes, causing damage to more than 1,700 homes. Church leaders didn’t have to wait until the scheduled meeting to see the value of forming a network like Austin Disaster Relief Network.
As Highland Lakes residents and officials began to realize the the magnitude of the flood, English called his contacts at Austin Disaster Relief Network. They told him they already had people on the ground in the Highland Lakes. Within a few days, area clergy established Highland Lakes Crisis Network, though they had already begun laying the groundwork for such an organization weeks beforehand.
And it’s here for the long haul, for this disaster and any future ones — no matter how large or small.
On Oct. 29, Austin Disaster Relief Network representatives met with about 120 people from 25-30 Highland Lakes churches to begin training them as disaster relief “shepherds.” It’s the first step, of many, as Highland Lakes Crisis Network takes root and grows.
“A shepherd provides emotional help, spiritual help — this is a faith-based effort,” said English, who is a Highland Lakes Crisis Network moderator.
But, he added, a shepherd’s role goes well beyond that.
A disaster is often a long-term recovery effort for those affected. While the initial disaster, the flood in this case, is over and out of many people’s minds, there are some still dealing with it day after day and will be for days, weeks, and months to come.
The shepherd program provides a trained person or team to walk alongside the flood or disaster victims or family during this time. The shepherd helps connect the victim with available resources as well as guide them to other organizations or agencies that can help them.
“A shepherd also helps coach them on figuring out a long-term plan for recovery,” English added. “A shepherd walks alongside them until their life is back to normal as possible. That can be anywhere from four months to years.”
The shepherd program is only a part of the network. Austin Disaster Relief Network started in 2009 and has become one of the most respected disaster relief organizations. It has more than 170 Austin area churches involved and has developed plans for responding to a variety of disasters, both to address short-term and long-term needs.
English said he and other Highland Lakes clergy had already taken note of Austin Disaster Relief Network and begun looking to create one in the area. But instead of starting from scratch, the idea was to model the Highland Lakes network after the already successful and efficient Austin Disaster Relief Network.
Austin Disaster Relief Network has even offered to help through training programs. When the Oct. 16 flood hit, the Austin network sent people to help with victims as well as meet with local clergy and leaders to assist in forming the Highland Lakes Crisis Network. Area churches already had begun communicating and working together in the initial flood response by setting up supply and water collection and disbursing sites as well as coordinating volunteers for home cleanups and more.
English explained that Highland Lakes Crisis Network isn’t meant to take over for local government emergency response but rather support those services.
“We’re here to say, ‘Where can we help? We have these resources, just plug us in,’” he added.
Many Highland Lakes churches have shown interest in the network. Even though much of the immediate attention is focused on flood recovery, the local network would respond to any disaster.
“The goal is to put together something that can be agile and efficient when the next disaster comes, and the next disaster, and the next,” English said. “We would put together teams in each participating church.”
The teams might have a similar foundation of training and disaster response skills, but they might also have more specialized ones. For example, one church would handle distribution of supplies, another might coordinate cleanup needs, and another might work on fundraising efforts.
The idea would be to have teams and people in place so when a disaster does hit, the network would swing into action and help.
English pointed out that not all disasters will be as large as the flood. It could be a house fire. Though small in scale compared to a flood, a house fire can traumatize a family, leaving them with nothing but a few belongings and no idea where to turn.
Highland Lakes Crisis Network could immediately step in and begin helping that family through the first stages: finding a place to stay and getting funds for clothing and other immediate needs then drawing up a plan for longterm recovery.
“And we’d walk alongside them during that recovery,” English said. “We’re just showing the same love Jesus showed to us.”
As for the current flood victims, English said there are two Multi-Agency Resource Centers, where people can find a number of support organizations, taking place. First Baptist Church of Granite Shoals, 505 S. Philips Ranch Road in Granite Shoals, is hosting one from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, and the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes-Marble Falls unit, 1701 Broadway, is the site of another one from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.
People interested in getting involved with Highland Lakes Crisis Network can check with their clergy to see if their church is participating or go to highlandlakescrisisnetwork.com.
Go to adrn.org for more information on Austin Disaster Relief Network.