On Memorial Day of 2019, the Dayton, OH, area was devastated by 15 tornados, including an EF-4 with winds over 165 miles per hour. The tornados destroyed at least 1,500 buildings and damaged 7,000 across four counties – Greene, Mercer, Miami, and Montgomery.
In the immediate aftermath of the tornados, many Dayton area United Methodist churches provided food, water, prayers, and volunteers who helped to clear debris. In the months that followed, United Methodist Early Response Teams and other volunteers worked to help homeowners in the hardest hit areas. Nine months into the recovery process, more than 1,900 volunteers had given 16,663 hours toward tornado relief work, and West Ohio had raised $224,000 for disaster response. Those funds–also given to support flood relief in southeast Ohio–were used:
- To purchase furnaces and water heaters for individual families.
- To support feeding ministries and purchase equipment needed by congregations in order to provide food on a consistent basis.
- To support case management and coordinate support and response.
As disaster relief turned toward recovery, the West Ohio Conference applied for and was awarded a $90,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). These funds were allocated to hiring two disaster case managers, who after completing their training with UMCOR, began serving the people of Dayton in partnership with Catholic Social Services (CSS). Given their relationship to the community, CSS was the natural choice to provide case management assistance to tornado survivors. In November of 2019, Halley McClain and Rhonda Zimmers began their work alongside the Dayton long-term recovery team.
Though neither had any previous case management experience, both Halley and Rhonda became instrumental in guiding survivors through their recovery options. “Rhonda and Halley went above and beyond what was necessary,” remarked Tamara Gaddis-Strozier, Long-Term Recovery Team Lead. “They literally went door-to-door helping survivors.”
During their 16 months as UMCOR disaster case managers, Halley and Rhonda managed more than 190 of the 2,076 cases that have come to the Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Team (LTRG). The other cases were handled by case managers from Catholic Social Services and the Red Cross. Of those 2,000+ cases, more than 1,900 have been closed; 133 are active and open; 71 have requested assistance with repair/rebuild; and 39 are being actively worked on by local contractors.
“We can’t thank you enough for West Ohio and UMCOR’s support with the disaster case management component. Halley and Rhonda have been great assets,” stated Laura Mercer, Executive Director of the Long-Term Recovery Operations Group.
In reflecting on their time as case managers, Rhonda and Halley are both grateful for the experience and hopeful for the continuing recovery of the Dayton community. “The most rewarding moments were hearing the joy and relief in my client’s voices when they were back in their homes or felt like they were finally able to move forward and put the stress and uncertainty behind them,” Rhonda commented. Halley also felt that she learned much about simply being there for people: “This experience has shown me the value of a simple kindness and a listening ear. I will now be more patient and intentional when offering support to others.”
At the end of March 2021, both Halley and Rhonda finished their time as UMCOR case managers. Halley will now focus full-time on her studies as she pursues a B.S. in Biochemistry and Microbiology. Rhonda has joined the staff at Catholic Social Services where she will provide continuity for disaster recovery clients and eventually take on additional duties. As for the recovery process, the LTRG expects individual repair/rebuild work to be completed by October 31, 2021.
As with any disaster, the recovery process has truly been a community effort, led by faith groups, churches, work teams, individuals, case managers, and donors whose generosity has helped to fund the rebuilding work. One of our West Ohio ERT teams has been able to assist with repair/rebuild work each month while adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Thank you, West Ohio Conference and UMCOR, for your continued commitment to the work of rebuilding lives, here in Ohio and around the world!