Committee meetings are rarely interesting material for storytelling. But how a meeting is conducted and how participants interact with one another during the meeting can help tell the bigger story of the personalities of those involved and the level of their collective accomplishments. In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to attend and observe a number of Long Term Recovery Committee meetings that seek to help those affected by disasters in various communities. I am truly amazed by how different these committees can be: Some are highly organized and effective and some are dominated by one or two strong personalities. Unfortunately, some are still finding ways to become a coherent body after a long period of time.The board meeting of Schoharie Area Long Term (SALT) at Cobleskill, New York, in the early morning hours of February 5, 2013, definitely belongs to the first kind – highly effective and exciting.
The Schoharie Basin, through which the Schoharie Creek flows, is an idyllic area with hilly meadows and small farmsteads in Upstate New York. When Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee ravaged the Northeast in August and September of 2011, the basin was hard hit with more than 2,000 properties affected. As the result, local governments lost an upward of 70% of their tax base. Soon afterwards, community leaders and faith-based organizations came together to form SALT – The Schoharie Area Long Term – to serve as a “…coordinating council or regional coalition in order to provide Interfaith and inter-agency resources, advocacy, healing, support, and recovery assistance to those affected by disaster.”
Several things stood out for me at that meeting. It was conducted in a very organized and effective manner; the meeting agenda and past minutes were well prepared and were sent to participants in advance. Pastor Sherri Meyer-Veen, the Chair of the SALT Board, chaired the meeting with grace and ease and was very good at inviting members to participate in discussions. Sarah Goodman, the Executive Director of SALT, was very knowledgeable and exhibited a high level of professionalism. Those in attendance were from all stripes of community leadership: business people, clergy, professors and government leaders, each representing their respective community needs and assets. The deliveries and discussions were very thoughtful and courteous – something that’s not always easy to accomplish, particularly in the very early morning hours. Undoubtedly, people around the table were highly accomplished professionals but yet no one tried to dominate the discussion. Instead, they tried to give of their best for the group and for those affected. At one point, members of the unmet needs committee presented a highly sophisticated decision-making flowchart to map how they make tough calls when considering requests from devastated local residents.
One of the things that struck me was that these leaders probably would not have been at the same table before Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee; but they rose up to the common challenge after the disaster and humbled themselves to work together to be a part of the whole for the sake of the shared future of their community. My subsequent meetings with the staff of SALT and other community stakeholders as well as my tours of the rebuilding projects confirmed these impressions.
The following are just a few of the points that helped me in forming this impression:
- Over 500 damaged properties received assistance from SALT and area partners and over 150 families have returned home.
- Over 120 faith based groups, 20 corporations, 35 schools, 15 labor unions and construction companies and 30 community service groups have volunteered.
- Over 25,000 volunteers have contributed 128,877 hours of labor worth over $4 million.
- The Fenimore Asset Management investment firm offered a $250,000 matching grant to SALT and the community was able to raise the sufficient fund to double this gift.
- Sarah Goodrich, the Executive Director of SALT, was named as the 2012 Times-Journal Star, a great honor for local residents.
- On the day of my visit, the Rev. David Meyers, Director of the Federal Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnership also visited SALT. SALT invited the media to talk to David Meyers, who represents the President Obama, as well as SALT leaders and representatives from various faith based organization. When Rev. Meyers was asked about how well he thought SALT was doing, he uttered a very important word, “Exemplary!”
We want to thank the many lay and ordained leaders of the Upstate New York Synod. It was my great pleasure to meet with some of them during my visits – Bishop Marie Jerge; Patsy Glista, Assistant to the Bishop for Operations; Gary Roller, Volunteer Coordinator; Pastor Elaine Berg, Dean of Foothill Conference, and many others. Through their tireless good work, Lutheran Disaster Response has been accompanying the residence in the Schoharie Basin since the beginning of the disaster response work in their community. In fact, LDR was among the first to support the creation of the SALT recovery group with a $45,000 initial grant for staffing and administration. This initial investment and subsequent grants have indeed yielded enormously fruitful results. Thanks be to God!