Working together, LTR’s Funder’s Forum addresses the unexpected needs discovered long after the initial emergency.
Case 9 is special. Normally, Tri-County Long Term Recovery’s Funder’s Forum sounds like a good-natured auction. Could this family get $250 for repairs on a home’s foundation? Boom. Sue Katz of the Jewish Federation of Peoria is all over it. Somebody needs $1,236 to store household goods while the home is being rebuilt? Done. Mark Doebler says Second Chance Church will pay for it.
How about $2,811 to rebuild a fence? You bet. Ken Stewart of Richwoods Christian Church calls it. Rental assistance at $500 a month for the next six months? Deal. Josh Burnett and Connect Church will pay half; John Rothfusz offers Faith Lutheran Church’s resources for the other half.
Sometimes funders jump in before they’ve even been asked. Capt. Katherine Clausell of The Salvation Army Heartland Division has led the bidding more than once. She can scan the paperwork and rapidly work the figures in her head, then claim five or six cases before anyone else gets going.
This is why LTR chairman Jim Fassino calls Funder’s Forum his favorite hour of the month. On the first Wednesday of the past 15 months—in 60 minutes or less—thousands of dollars have been provided to help more than 1,100 homeowners affected by the November 17, 2013 tornadoes. At the April meeting alone, a little more than $150,000 was pledged by this group. That’s roughly $2,500 in aid per minute.
It is LTR’s sole reason for being: to fill a disaster’s unmet needs as efficiently as possible. That requires two different efforts.
On the “help-needed” side, a case manager is assigned to assist each case through the all the pains and paperwork demanded by government agencies and insurance companies. Once complete, the case is presented—confidentially—to the Funder’s Forum.
That’s the “help-giving” side, where representatives of nearly two dozen organizations have resources set aside, confident the central database has been checked and their money will be used as intended. Each case is entirely at the discretion of these group representatives.
Working together, LTR’s Funder’s Forum addresses the second stage of healing from a major disaster: the unexpected needs discovered long after the initial emergency. That process can last up to two years, and it, too, comes in stages. In February, for example, there were 45 requests for assistance. Case 9 was one of the first complicated, big-ticket situations.
Soil remediation had already tested the funders’ limits. The tornadoes embedded scrap metal and broken glass into the ground for miles around. So what happens when a homeowner hopes to recoup the $6,650 spent restoring ground so kids can play in the yard again?
Collaboration takes five minutes instead of one. Roger Holzhauer says the Washington Illinois Area Foundation will give $1,000. Kristy Howell ups the ante to $2,000 from Washington Rotary Foundation. Fassino and LTR match with another $2,000. The Salvation Army sticks to $1,000. And the Jewish Federation finishes up with $650.
Done. Then comes Case 9: $21,000 for a new roof which had been denied by the clients’ insurance company. The room gets quiet. LTR provides more details. Lu Ori, recently retired from River City Construction LLC, had inspected the property for LTR. Whatever the insurance adjustor said, he believes it was indeed tornado damage—and by the way, the homeowner is 91 years old and uses an oxygen tank. He is being cared for by his 65-year-old son, a Vietnam veteran on disability. Their savings were eroded by years of home healthcare for the mother, who was partially paralyzed. Battling lung cancer, the father had been in and out of the hospital ever since the tornadoes. The roof problem is delaying the sale of the house and the father’s move into assisted living. Now what?
Fassino says LTR will start with $3,000. Pam Tomka of Washington Lions Club chimes in with $1,000. Washington Foundation gives $2,000. One by one, funders respond: Jewish Federation, $1,000. The Salvation Army, $2,000; Second Chance Church, $2,000; St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, $1,000; Washington Rotary, $5,000. Since roof repairs are all or nothing, after a pause, Connect Church, Washington Apostolic Christian Church, Heart of Illinois United Way and First Baptist Church of Washington seal the deal with $1,000 apiece.
The funders did not know Case 9’s identity. But a few weeks later, after roofers had completed the repairs in single-digit temperatures, Harold West agreed to speak for this story to say the group effort is appreciated. “I got tears in my eyes when he told me,” son Arlen West said of caseworker Ed Murray. “I told Dad, ‘Do you think our luck is changing a little bit?’”
Concluding the Recovery
Despite newspaper stories and media broadcasts, the Wests would not have known about LTR without a referral from a friend. Perhaps because it is relatively new—created in 2013 just before tornadoes struck Tazewell County—or because it is an umbrella organization with many members, LTR has a remarkably low profile.
A standalone not-for-profit, it was formed after the spring 2013 floods. LTR members had met a few times when the tornadoes struck. Underwritten by a $500,000 grant from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation based in Chicago, LTR opened an office at Washington Plaza (formerly Sunnyland Plaza). It provides a central location for meetings and a sheltering environment for clients. When recovery is deemed complete in a few more months, the office will close and LTR will go dormant until there is another major disaster to address.
Case 9 was special in part because it involved almost half of the funders. But the biggest and most complicated needs remain, and LTR wants to treat every case as special. As somebody who works with giving people every day, I have to say the funders who meet at LTR are special, too. iBi
Mark Roberts is CEO of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois and a founding member of LTR.