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United Methodists launch long-term 9/11 response

4/19/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - Using nearly $20 million raised in donations, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is launching a long-term plan to address the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Specific proposals - ranging from the creation of a New York-based program to assist the secondary victims of the World Trade Center attacks to the establishment of a field office in Kabul, Afghanistan - were approved by UMCOR directors during the April 15-18 meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, its parent body.

Bishop Lindsey Davis of the Atlanta Area, UMCOR's president, told board directors that $19.8 million had been raised to date through UMCOR's "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" Fund. He said he has been "excited and humbled" by the generosity of United Methodists in the aftermath of the attacks.

"We are committed to long-term recovery," he added. "We have chosen to focus our attention on those who sometimes fall through the cracks."

John Scibilia, director of the Sept. 11 response for Lutheran Disaster Relief in the New York area, told Board of Global Ministries directors that, in general, various organization and funds have continued to assist those who experienced a loss of life or permanent injury, loss of their residence, use of their residence or who had mental health needs.

The gaping hole, Scibilia said, is the "unmet needs of those who have been economically impacted." For example, at least 75,000 jobs have been lost in the New York area since September. In addition to lower wage earners, those seeking help include middle-class workers whose unemployment insurance and savings have been depleted, he added.

He urged United Methodists to play an active role in local recovery. That is a key element of UMCOR's plan. But in its response, the relief agency also is working at the national level, through projects promoting interfaith dialogue and trauma-response training for those working with children, and internationally with a focus on the people of Afghanistan.

UMCOR's openness to a global response to the Sept. 11 tragedies impressed Thomas Kemper, an UMCOR director who lives in Germany. He helped initiate contact with Diakonie Werk, the main Protestant relief agency in Germany, which is currently cooperating with a Swiss organization and Turkish agency to provide emergency relief along the Afghan-Iran border and in Kandahar. The United Methodist Church in Germany was a founding partner of Diakonie Werk and UMCOR has committed a total of $500,000 so far for its Afghanistan project.

Davis told directors that, combined with grants used for the more immediate response last fall, the adoption of UMCOR's long-term plan brings the total designated amount to just over $16 million. Remaining funds will be designated later. Although fine-tuning is expected, "this plan is our discernment of the direction God would have us go," he said.

UMCOR directors allotted $5 million for the three-year New York program, "People Centered Long Term Recovery," which the agency considers to be one of its strengths. The focus is on secondary victims of Sept. 11.

"Traditionally, it is the role of the faith community to reach out to special populations, which are more vulnerable to disaster," the project proposal stated. "These include the elderly, disabled, poor, non-English-speaking, undocumented, children, single parents or caregivers and other non-mainstream groups."

UMCOR's case management program will operate out of a separate office in New York, rather than at the agency's headquarters at 475 Riverside Dr., and include a program director, finance director and four social workers as case managers. To help maintain its relationship with the United Methodist New York Annual Conference, two conference representatives will be part of the program's executive committee, along with two UMCOR representatives and one community member.

Case management also is part of the five-year disaster recovery plan of the United Methodist Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. With a $4.4 million grant from UMCOR, the conference will continue to provide pastoral care and counseling, develop "family coping seminars" and work in coordination with the New Jersey Interfaith Partnership.

Immigrants and refugees in the United States have faced new problems with increased restrictions after the terrorist attacks and some have turned to "Justice For Our Neighbors," an UMCOR immigration project, for assistance. A $600,000 grant will allow the project to expand its national network of immigration clinics over the next three years.

On an international level, UMCOR is continuing its efforts to assist vulnerable and displaced people in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees outside the country. The largest financial commitment, $1.5 million, will be used to start a field office in Kabul, Afghanistan. That office will oversee the agency's programs for returning Afghans to their villages, including housing and social development projects.

UMCOR has considerable experience with such work in other countries. Current field offices are located in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Projects in Turkey and Tajikistan have just concluded and the offices there are being closed.

Besides cooperating with Diakonie Werk, UMCOR's other ecumenical partner in the region has been Church World Service. Directors approved another $400,000 to Church World Service for its work with Afghan refugees in Pakistan and internally displaced people in Afghanistan. The ecumenical agency previously had received $150,000 from UMCOR for those programs.

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