Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We're All VALs Now! (My Apologies to My Aunt.)

Editor's note: this was written on Monday the 14th and posted in the evening of the 15th, and ordinarily I would've changed all the tenses, but the day began at 5:40 AM and is now ending at 11 PM and it's just too much bother, so here is the unfinished product. My sincerest apologia.

Well, I wanted something fresh to write about, and I got it! Here’s the latest news from Lake Woebegone: as of today, Summit 5 is transitioning out of Community Relations and working exclusively as Voluntary Agency Liaisons. We’ll always be CR at heart, but for the foreseeable future—since the role of CR diminishes every day in an ongoing recovery process, as it is supposed to—we will be working with the VAL side of FEMA. My team is so FEMA flexible that we could probably stand on our heads and spell out FEMA with our legs, but changing our position is a new thing even for us.

So what does that entail? As the name might indicate, it’s our job to bring together all the voluntary agencies—faith-based organizations, charities of all stripes, local and larger nonprofits, schools and so forth—people who are willing to donate their time and money towards rebuilding a community, and help organize them into a larger structure that will outlast FEMA’s stay in any particular area. It’s really just a smaller-scale version of what the FEMA role is supposed to be in any given disaster; our job is supposed to be to organize all efforts—local, state, nonprofit, charity, regular folks and what have you—into as efficient a process as possible. And hopefully after FEMA leaves town, as it inevitably must, we’ll leave a process in place whereby different organizations devoted to different sub-tasks (mucking and gutting houses, putting insulation into homes, hauling junk away, etc.) work together to help survivors in as harmonious a way as possible. I guess it’s a credit to the human race that so many people show up at the site of a disaster and try to help in whatever way they can, and it’s characteristic of said race that people trip over each other on the way to help those in need. Our job is to make it run smoothly.

That’s the ideal, of course. We have yet to see how it works in practice; today was devoted to sitting in meanings and learning about FEMA’s new neighborhood-centered approach in our area of Queens, mostly the Rockaways. (Essentially, the idea is to figure out how communities are doing in general—are most people back in their homes? Is the tax base back where it was? Are stores doing as much business as they did pre-disaster?—and figure out, hey, this place is where FEMA needs to send its people, while this place is not.) Recovery is a hard thing to quantify, or so I thought anyway, but it’s the job in this new initiative (which includes more than just VALs, by the way) to do just that. Again, we shall see.

But it looks pretty good to start with. We’ve been armed with plenty of phone numbers and people to call in the event of (insert x specific situation here), and told that our job is to solve peoples’ problems on the spot where possible, so that’s something. I’m still not clear on exactly how much old-school door-to-door canvassing we’ll be doing, or if we’ll be driving out to visit each nonprofit and enlist their aid, or how that’s going to work. There’ll be much more to report soon enough, though; it’s only Monday, and today was consumed by briefings of one sort or another. (News flash—one FEMA Reservist lives in Vicksburg in his off time, about two hundred yards from the Southern Region campus! Apparently, he used to travel around the country to various paper mills as well, so he’s quite familiar with Wisconsin and much of the Midwest as well.)

Until then, life on the Whitestone Expressway rolls on. Food is bought and cooked and eaten, Physical Training is wrangled together (we’re doing it in about eight minutes), games of Settlers of Catan are played (I was inches away from beating Michael of Summit 4 the other day, but lost out to his army of Knights and other dev-cards), little sleep is had and lots of settling-in is being done. We’re not sure when days off will come; as per the new policy, weekends are the best time to talk to people (since everyone is bloody at home during the day) so our off time could be at any time during the week. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Until then, this is Andy of Summit 5, signing off!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm...could that typo have a deeper meaning? ("...sitting in meanings")I think most people who have to go to meetings don't find them particularly meaningful. But in your case, it is strangely apt. By the way, I am happy to be connected to your endeavors in any way, even so tenuously as to have your new acronym spell my name. You are my hero! -Aunt Val

Andy said...

Blaaargh. Sitting in *meetings*--I hate it when I typo. And also I can't do my new job without thinking about you at least once a day--thanks for reading by the way!

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