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UMCOR continues response to Sept. 11 tragedy

11/1/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #507.

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - As the second-month "anniversary" of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is continuing its efforts to respond to the crisis on local, national and international levels.

On Oct. 31, for example, 17 volunteers were engaged in activities around Manhattan, according to Don Falvey, an UMCOR volunteer from Utah. At the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist, on the Upper West Side, volunteers were helping out at the long-established food pantry and offering counseling in English and Spanish. Volunteers from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference also were providing child care at the church.

Downtown at Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church, counseling was available, with the sanctuary open for prayer and meditation. John Street Church, a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, provided a "listening post" as well as a staging area for volunteers to reach out to rescue workers.

Falvey said that UMCOR volunteers do not go into "ground zero" except with special permission. He explained that they have found it more productive to be available at the perimeter as rescue workers stop for a break, take a meal or leave their shift.

He has spent a good deal of time in New York recently, arriving on Sept. 19 for a four-week tour of duty and then returning again soon afterward. "It's been sort of a continual change," Falvey said. The "extremely subdued" atmosphere of the city soon after the attacks had slowly transformed back to the more normal day-to-day doings, he noted.

"Some of the police are even starting to smile a bit," he added.

Besides Falvey, volunteers who have spent considerable time coordinating UMCOR activities in New York include his wife, Carol, Brian Lewis and Jonna Marie of Colorado, Bob Huie of Arkansas, Frank Ridgeforth of Virginia, Bob Chamberlain of Washington, Lee Bines of South Carolina and Jody Burgum. Nina Martin, UMCOR field staff from North Dakota, also has been involved.

The Rev. F. Thomas Hazelwood, UMCOR's national disaster coordinator, said that even though the number of people taking advantage of "listening posts" at the city's United Methodist churches has diminished lately, the concept was likely to continue in some form.

"I firmly believe that in the next two weeks, as we move closer to Thanksgiving, the need is going to escalate again," he explained. "We're going to try to continue to find ways to reach people to give them the opportunity to talk."

One volunteer, Camille Yorkey, a pastoral counselor from North Carolina, has chronicled her experiences in New York at online.

UMCOR also is cooperating with Tepeyac, a local Hispanic organization that is assisting the families from five Central American countries whose loved ones were in the midst of U.S. immigration proceedings and were killed in the terrorist attacks. In many cases, these individuals had been sending money regularly to family in their home country and had not been heard from since Sept. 11.

In terms of pastoral care, Hazelwood is hoping to devise some long-term strategies to help pastors and congregations in the New York area cope with the aftermath of Sept. 11. One possibility is gathering two or three congregations together to provide support for each other in dealing with fears and safety issues. UMCOR found that after the Oklahoma City bombing "these group sessions were very helpful," he said.

On a national level, UMCOR is providing workshops to train leaders who work with children in post-disaster trauma response and is instituting a grant program to promote interfaith contact and dialogue.

The "Honoring Differences in the Midst of Hate and Violence" grant program encourages congregations and annual conferences to design creative joint projects with Islamic groups, Arab-American organizations and others who have experienced stereotyping and hostility in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Program goals should include increasing understanding, building trust and establishing an inclusive community that honors differences.

Marjorie Rudolph, volunteer coordinator for the grant program, said she had received inquiries from as nearby as New Jersey and as far away as Hawaii and had sent out 40 to 50 informational packets as of the end of October. She can be contacted by e-mail at or by telephone through UMCOR's Washington office at (202) 548-4002.

The child-related workshops, called "Tragic Times, Healing Moments," are particularly aimed at parents, who "are our children's best advocates," according to Debra Ball-Kilbourne, UMCOR's volunteer coordinator for the workshops. Pastors, Sunday school leaders and other community advocates for children also would benefit, she said.

The four-hour training helps participants "be assured that they understand normal reactions of children to national trauma," she explained, and learn ways to deal with those reactions.

Aimed at the district or conference level, the training includes an updated manual and training leader provided through UMCOR. Workshop hosts are expected to provide overnight accommodations for the leader and cover publicity and other site expenses. Four workshops had occurred by the end of October, with 16 scheduled for November, mostly in the Northeastern and Southeastern Jurisdictions.

Ball-Kilbourne, who serves as director of mission engagement for the Dakotas Conference, noted that the United Methodist Publishing House had donated a large amount of materials for the workshops. Donations of materials also were received from the Upper Room and Chalice Press. Delia Halverson, a United Methodist laywoman from Florida, provided overall design as a gift to the denomination.

District or conference representatives interested in scheduling a workshop can contact Ball-Kilbourne by e-mail at or by calling (701) 234-1996.

Internationally, UMCOR was selected by Action By Churches Together to provide basic assessment of the three major faith-based nongovernmental organizations operating in Pakistan and how they might respond to the increasing number of Afghan refugees in that country.

UMCOR also is one of three nongovernmental organizations active in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, and had sent a planning team to prepare for the arrival of up to 100,000 refugees.

Donations for UMCOR's work in response to the Sept. 11 attacks have come in from around the world. Although the total currently processed through UMCOR's offices is $550,000, much more is expected to arrive, according to Wendy Whiteside, an UMCOR executive.

Donations can be designated to UMCOR Advance No. 901125-3, "Love in the Midst of Tragedy." Checks can be placed in church collection plates or mailed to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

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*Bloom is news director of United Methodist News Service's New York office.

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