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UMCOR 9/11 funds continue to assist secondary victims

 


July 13, 2004 

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) -- A man whose brother took over an early shift for him on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, at Windows on the World is left depressed and guilt-ridden.

A driver who worked for a limousine service that drew 70 percent of its business from the World Trade Center loses his home, his job and his marriage.

A mother with children doesnt know where to turn because her husband has been deported under the Patriot Act.

These are some of the people suffering the long-term effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who have sought help from the United Methodist Church.

Assistance has come through United Methodist Committee on Relief's 9/11 Disaster Response in New York, the disaster response programs of the United Methodist Greater New Jersey and New York annual conferences, and projects in the denomination's Virginia Annual Conference. Church members generously donated more than $20 million in the aftermath of the tragedy to finance these ministries.

The need was evident from the start, according to the Rev. Christopher Miller, who directs the HEART (Healing, Encouragement and Advocacy in Response to Tragedy) program for the Greater New Jersey Conference.

"We were so overwhelmed by the numbers of clients who came to us by word-of-mouth that we never really had to go out and search for clients," he told United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. Charles "Chick" Straut, who has led the 9/11 work of the New York Annual Conference, noted that very few minimum-wage workers impacted by the attacks received any government compensation. The conference's work, in conjunction with UMCOR, aimed "at the least of these -- people the media don't even call victims."

The New York UMCOR program, led by the Rev. Ramon Nieves, a United Methodist pastor from Chicago, had served some 1,800 individuals and families through June, through the main office at 475 Riverside Drive and 10 satellite offices in the city's five boroughs. With 75 percent of the work in the field, the four caseworkers manage two to three offices apiece. "Our model has been to meet the clients where they're at," Nieves explained.

In Queens, for example, many of those clients are Muslim and Hindu. Some have been detained under the Patriot Act. In a few cases, family members have been deported. "The racial profiling is the highest it's ever been," Nieves said. "That's been a big complaint on behalf of our clientele."

The biggest needs revolve around economic issues, which also can impact mental health. Caseworker Jenny Crystal Ip, said many of the clients she sees in Chinatown work in the garment industry, which suffered a loss of business after 9/11. Because garment work pays by the piece, employees can earn as little as $10 a day. "Even if they (clients) have a job now, they don't work full time," she added.

Vanessa Encarnacion, another caseworker for UMCOR 9/11 Disaster Response, deals with a large Hispanic clientele, many of who are untrained and some of who are undocumented. Although more clients found part-time employment this year, most are underemployed, she noted.

Age discrimination is part of the problem. "I had a client who worked at the trade center for over 10 years," she said. "He never thought he would lose his job."

Both caseworkers pointed to clients who had accepted the tragedy and the need to move on, but were unable to find another job, which led to psychological problems and depression.

Mental health care remains important, according to Nieves. Two clients currently under psychiatric care include a woman who was burned on her hands and back and saw co-workers die as they fled from the 97th floor of one of the towers, and a man from Staten Island who had just left the building to get coffee for his boss. "The next thing he saw was bodies exploding into the ground," he recounted.

Another client had a brother who had taken his shift at Windows on the World restaurant. "His brother went in at 7 a.m. and never came out," Nieves said.

The man, who had been depressed, recently called him and said his brother's body had finally been identified. "He said it with so much peace," he added. "He said, 'I can go home now' and went back to the Dominican Republic."

Nieves attributes the success of his program to the denomination itself. "The United Methodist Church is the backbone of the program," he explained. "It is through the churches that we are able to reach people."

In the New York Conference, about 50 to 55 churches organized more than 80 projects to assist in the 9/11 aftermath, according to Straut. "Every one of these programs showed the imagination of the local church leadership," he said.

A favorite project of his was the Coney Island Avenue Project in Brooklyn, which involved Park Slope United Methodist Church. The heavily Pakistani population in that area was one of the first to fall under the anti-immigrant backlash and people were picked up during sweeps and sent to detention centers without warning. The project helped family members of detainees, conducted seminars on citizens' rights and provided legal referrals. "To me, it was one of the most exciting uses of our money," Straut said.

Together, Nieves and Straut have served as co-chairmen of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, which provides disaster-preparedness training and offers a collective approach to services through its "unmet needs roundtable." If a family was about to lose a home because they owed $10,000 on a mortgage, for example, "together, we could be able to meet that unmet need," Nieves explained.

Involvement in the New Jersey Interfaith Partnership for Disaster Recovery also was beneficial and the 9/11 Long-Term Recovery Committee of the New Jersey Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) also helped bring referrals to that conference's HEART program, according to Miller.

Over the past two years, Miller has been able to develop "agency to agency" working relationships with as many as 17 agencies. "I basically used them as contract case managers," he explained. "The agency would usually come to me with needs for their clients who met our criteria and I would expect the same information and level of case management from them as I would from my own staff. If that was happening, then I would support their clients financially."

That setup has allowed HEART -- which is based in the conference office building in Ocean, N.J. -- to work with as many as 313 clients, some of whom were undocumented. And when Miller was overwhelmed with new clients coming in, some of the agencies were able to provide back-up case management. "This allowed us to keep our administrative costs down and we never had to put anyone on a waiting list," he said.

Continuing psychological issues for those clients range from low self-esteem to depression to full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to Miller. Those with strong support from family, friends, co-workers or church congregations; with a strong sense of faith, successful recuperation from other traumatic events and good physical and mental health fared the best, he said.

"One of our most difficult 'type' of client is the one who was marginally functional to begin with and was knocked completely for a loop by the events of Sept. 11, 2001," Miller added.

Hidden victims of 9/11 also can be found south of Washington, not far from the attack on the Pentagon. To assist those victims, the United Methodist Church in Northern Virginia coordinated with six organizations. One year of 9/11-related funding remains for those programs, according to the Rev. Herb Brynildsen, Arlington District program coordinator.

Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, which has many homeless or formerly homeless members, is one of those organizations. Connected to the Rising Hope church is Route One Neighborhood Shalom Organization, dedicated to empowering low-income and disenfranchised residents and its subsidiary, Phoenix Rising, a program serving bagged meals and providing those in need with other donated items and social service information.

UMCOR funding has allowed Rising Hope to expand its food pantry and meals program, Brynildsen said, and Phoenix Rising has added more delivered meals on weekends.

Grace Ministries, one of largest recipients of the grant money, has offered job training in areas such as childcare, elder care and first aid and has three sites for food distribution, with the newest site in Herndon. "We'll continue to see growth in that area," he added. "Herndon has a large immigrant population."

An English as a Second Language program now has sites in 21 local United Methodist churches, some of which have computer centers to assist with workplace literacy. Bi-District Hispanic Ministries offers emergency assistance and advocacy and has worked "to create an oasis of peace" in the midst of the immigrant community, he said.

The demand for emergency assistance remains a constant. "Rent assistance has been a big problem for us," Brynildsen explained. "We've depleted our budget on that often."

But the issues that have really impacted immigrants after 9/11, he pointed out, have been changes in immigration laws and outright discrimination -- making it difficult for them to obtain driver's licenses and other forms of government identification and decreasing their ability to find jobs. Because of that, demands for legal assistance through the Northern Virginia Board of Missions/Immigrant and Legal Services Task Force continue to grow. "That's where some of the greatest impact (of the 9/11 grant) has been," he said.

In New York, UMCOR 9/11 Disaster Response is beginning to wind down its work, although it will continue to accept new clients in the near future. As the program phases out, Nieves said, it would provide training "to ensure the leadership of the (New York) annual conference is ready when UMCOR closes its case-management services."

For Nieves, working with the program has been the most "incredible ministry" he has experienced as a pastor. "You realize that life is a gift that you've got to return when you meet the 9/11 families," he said.

Straut, who is retired, also expects to end his own duties by next May. The conference's new structure, a "Connectional Ministries Table," includes a disaster-preparedness and response ministry that will be led by a conference member, with a staff member assigned to it.

The most recent findings from the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, Straut pointed out, show that the peak stress period occurs two to five years after the event. The New York Conference still has counseling funds that it will continue to make available.

Miller said the HEART program, which entered its third year in July, would probably continue to assist some chronic clients through the fifth year, depending upon demand and "the ability for clients to recover.

 *Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

News media contact: Linda Bloom(646)369-3759 New York E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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