When disaster happens, a helping hand means the world to communities in need. Whether it’s rebuilding homes, finding access to food and water, or strengthening resiliency, for Lutheran Congregational Services (LCS), disaster recovery and response is not just about providing resources, it’s about giving hope and strength back to vulnerable individuals and communities.
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) have provided a helping hand to disaster-stricken communities for the past 49 years and their annual conference that took place this year in Nashville was a time for over 100 member organizations from around the country to connect, listen, and learn from all of their unique experiences.
What is NVOAD?
NVOAD is an association of voluntary organizations that provide relief to communities affected by disaster. They lead by four guiding principles: cooperation, communication, coordination, and collaboration. Their meaningful work attempts to discover efficient ways to deliver services and resources to vulnerable populations when disaster strikes.
“There are so many ideas and connections being shared, all with the purpose of striving to make the most efficient use of limited resources while bringing hope to disaster survivors.” –Julia Menzo, director of community outreach for LCS and Liberty Lutheran
This year’s NVOAD annual conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee and with over 700 individuals in attendance, Community Outreach Director for Lutheran Congregational Services (LCS) of Liberty Lutheran, Julia Menzo, was excited to not only present her work to fellow voluntary organizations, but to be inspired and motivated by her colleagues’ unique knowledge and understanding of disaster response and recovery.
In her role as Director of Community Outreach, Julia also serves as Lutheran Disaster Response Coordinator for Pennsylvania and co-chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania VOAD.
Raising Awareness and Discussion for Climate Change at NVOAD
Held at the luxurious Gaylord Hotel and Resort, Julia described the venue as a living biosphere. With a river flowing directly through it, and a completely controlled climate system, the resort was a perfect place for this year’s newly introduced topic of conversation, climate change.
The first year ever for this topic to be discussed in depth at NVOAD, Julia was excited about the insights and discussion climate change would bring to the conference. “It’s so important because it greatly impacts the work we do for disaster response not just currently but for our future as well,” she says.
At the conference, Deke Arndt from NOAA presented on climate change and Julia enjoyed listening to his perspective. “He made the topic much less abstract and more relatable. His information was factual, but the way he presented it was fun and interesting,” she says.
Presenting their efforts to help families displaced from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria
Julia also presented at the NVOAD conference alongside her colleagues Carmen Febo from Puertorriqueño, Peter Gudaitus from NYDIS and Dr. Laura Olson from Jacksonville State University. With over 70 attendees eager to listen, Julia, Carmen, Peter, and Dr. Olson discussed their work with internally displaced people (IDPs) from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Along with their disaster responding partners, LCS/LDR’s efforts, specifically, provided housing for displaced families, as well as refrigerators, winter coats, kitchen supplies, gift cards, school supplies, hygiene kits, and more. Their work alongside efforts from colleagues involved in disaster response and recovery has not only given vulnerable populations and families necessary supplies to live through times of disaster, but has restored their hope and strength amidst great challenges and devastation.
Returning home inspired and motivated for the future of their work in disaster response
“There’s no simple solution to the work that we do,” says Julia reflecting on the challenges many of the volunteer agencies face amidst their work in disaster response and recovery.
And while volunteers come across numerous obstacles in attempting to bring security and resiliency to vulnerable populations, Julia says the work they do makes her realize how increasingly difficult it must be for the people experiencing such devastation.
“I just think about how chaotic and challenging life must be for them in all of this, and those challenges are always difficult to think about, but it inspires and motivates us to keep doing the work that we do.”