New UMCOR grant marks $500K in United Methodist support for Okanogan wildfire recovery

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One of the homes rebuilt in the Okanagan area that was recently turned back over to the homeowner during a dedication ceremony.

With a new grant, United Methodists can proudly say they have placed more than half a million dollars into rebuilding communities in northcentral Washington devastated by 2020 wildfires – and they’re doing it at a record pace as well.

Recently, three homes that have been rebuilt by the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group were turned over to their owners during dedication ceremonies in these rural northcentral Washington communities.

Rev. Sheila Miranda, associate for connectional ministries in the Pacific Northwest Conference, attended the dedication ceremonies and was amazed by the work many different organizations and volunteers put into rebuilding homes lost to wildfires.

“One homeowner said, ‘you haven’t just given me back my home, you’ve given me back my life,’” Miranda said. “It was just a wonderful experience of seeing how organizations can accomplish so much more when they work together.”

In just two years since the wildfires ravaged communities, the Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group has closed all but 30 of the 200 cases for support that were opened when damage assessments first came in, according to Dana Bryson, co-disaster response coordinator for the PNW Conference. Initially, the goal was to rebuild six homes, but because of the steady pace of funding, volunteer coordinators and supplies, they expanded that number to nine homes.

Working with ecumenical partners, volunteers have completed four of the nine homes identified. Three of the remaining houses are under construction and are fully enclosed so work can be done through the winter. In the spring, Bryson said they plan to compete the remaining homes.

Bryson said a new $88,000 extension grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will allow for the Long Term Recovery Group to continue funding the position of a volunteer coordinator and rebuilding manager, in addition to more building supplies.

“I focused this grant on what we needed to support our volunteers,” he said.

Bryson said its been a combination of factors that has allowed the rebuilding process in the Okanogan area to move along so swiftly.

First, an initial $10,000 solidarity grant from UMCOR allowed disaster response coordinators to provide immediate support such as hygiene and school supply kits. But then UMCOR supplied a $100,000 Recovery Grant, and the PNW Conference Disaster Response Fund has provided $60,000 for wildfire recovery. Another $250,000 grant from UMCOR last year continued to support rebuilding efforts, and now this latest grant will add $88,000 in United Methodist giving to the recovery.

When UMCOR first signed its letter of intent to support the Okanogan recovery efforts, Bryson said that kicked into gear collaboration and giving from ecumenical partners such as Red Cross, Catholic Charities, and Mennonite Disaster Services.

The other factor helping speed the process along was the fact there was already a Long Term Recovery structure after wildfires had ripped through the area in 2014 and 2015. It made getting organized this round much easier with an established organization and dedicated management. Bryson said it’s commonplace for rebuilding and recovery from disasters to take four to five years. But the hope in the Okanogan area is to close any remaining cases and finish rebuilding homes in 2023 – less than three years after the wildfires.

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