Bolivar County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee receives UCC grant

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Mound Bayou, Miss., December 17, 2023 – Katie Howe, Minister for Disaster Response and Recovery, Global H.O.P.E. United Church of Christ (UCC), National, announced today that the Bolivar County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee (BCLTDRC) recently received a $20,000 grant from the UCC Disaster Response Ministries.

According to Howe, Global H.O.P.E. is an acronym for Humanitarian. Opportunities. Progress. Empowerment. “Our Global H.O.P.E. team facilitates the UCC’s response to natural and human-caused disasters across the United States and its territories and around the world,” stated Howe.  “Getting to know local leaders who work with dedication and tenacity for the sake of their neighbors is truly inspiring,” she said. “I am grateful to connect with organizations leading recoveries after low-attention disasters and in under-resourced areas,” stated Howe. “I am most appreciative of Mavis Creagh, Executive Director of R3SM, Incorporated (Recover, Rebuild, and Restore Southeast MS) and a board member of Mississippi VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) for facilitating the introduction to BCLTDRC,” stated Howe.

“The mission of the BCLTDRC is to address the unmet needs of Bolivar County residents who have been adversely affected by a natural disaster,” said DeVoyce C. Morris, the organization’s chairman.  “The BCLTDRC is exactly what the name implies,” continued Morris. “After all other organizations have completed their assigned tasks, our organization is there for long term recovery,” she said.  “Recovering from a disaster does not happen overnight.  It is almost three years later, and some residents are still feeling the effects of the flood of June 2021,” stated Morris.  “The emotional toll is grave when a person loses everything,” she said. “I stood in my front door and watched the waters rushing toward my house like a tsunami, and I was horrified!  As if on cue, the rushing waters ceased,” recalled Morris.  “I can only imagine those who were not as fortunate as I was,” she stated.  (See the YouTube video: “Bolivar County Rebuilds Following June 2021 Flood”.)

 “The BCLTDRC will be forever grateful for the established partnerships between Howe and the UCC Global H.O.P.E., and to Mavis Creagh for her support of our organization and its recovery efforts,” said Morris.  “I firmly believe the scriptural affirmation that we are held by God, and there is peace when we are reminded that we are in God’s hands and that He is always perfectly on time,” she continued.  “The grant support from the UCC Global H.O.P.E. is “perfectly on time,” Morris expressed.  “I thank God for His blessings, for He has placed so many great humanitarians in our lives and they have helped the BCLTDRC in so many ways,” extolled Morris.  “When we see people suffering, we, too need emotional and spiritual support,” she stated.  “I have had to leave a house in tears when I was not as strong as I thought I was,” she said.

BCLTDRC’s vice-president, Geraldine Grammer, stated that churches in Bolivar County, along with many other benevolent individuals, opened their doors to the many volunteers who assisted Bolivar County residents in the recovery process following the latest flood.”  “The spirit of generosity of the local communities is overwhelming,” said Grammer.  “The BCLTDRC was tasked with providing a hot, evening meal for the volunteers, and the local churches and individuals have been so generous,” said Grammer.  “We are so proud that we crossed all denominational lines to host the volunteers,” she stated. “I would be remiss if I did not mention the First United Methodist Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, Lampton Street Church of Christ, Mt. Olive MB Church, Greater Bethel AME Church, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Pleasant Green MB Church, True Light MB Church of St. Louis, Mound Bayou First Baptist Church, Jerusalem MB Church, Walk of Faith Covenant Church, New Life Church, Vowel’s Market, Community Foundation of North West Mississippi,  Feduccia Trust, Peter Woods, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Chi Mu Omega Chapter, local farmers, Councilman Douglas Kelly, and many other individuals for their unparalleled support,” continued Grammer.  

“During the June 2021 flood, the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers were the first to arrive on the scene.  When I was able to get out of my house, I met with the chaplains who were parked in uptown Mound Bayou,” said Morris.  “Together, we prayed and cried,” she continued.  “I had never seen such devastation in my life before,” she said.  “The entire town looked like it was setting in a river,” she stated.  The Samaritan’s Purse volunteers began their tasks of disinfecting and gutting for the 144 families that were affected, particularly in the communities of Shelby, Mound Bayou, Rosedale and Gunnison, which had undergone the most extensive damage.  

Sadly, Bolivar County did not receive a federal declaration which would have provided federal funds for rebuilding, because only 19 houses were considered to be “major damaged.”  “According to the federal definition for “major damage,” the waterline has to be above 18 inches or above the electrical outlets in an essential living space, or the waterline exceeds three inches but is below 18 inches, with other factors included, as the duration of the flood, waterline reached outlets, or the number of essential living spaces affected,” said Morris.  At least 50 households had to be affected to declare a federal emergency.  “We received a Disaster Assistance Repair Program (DARP) grant from Mississippi Emergency Management Agency; however, the funds were restricted to building materials and supplies only,” said Morris. 

 “We will be forever grateful to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), United Church of Christ, and other churches, organizations and individuals in the area who have assisted and supported our recovery efforts,” stated Morris.  “We had never met Mavis Creagh in person; however, she was vital in assisting us in finding much needed funding,” said Morris.  “We will always remember her for reaching out to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ for the two grants that we have received,” continued Morris.  “We cannot thank Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold and Katie Howe, Michael Lamb, EMA Director, Bolivar County Board of Supervisors, County Administrator, Will Hooker, local churches and ministers, organizations, and the countless other individuals who have assisted us along the way,” stated Morris.  “There are several churches that include our organization in their annual budgets, and for their altruism, we are eternally grateful,” Morris continued.

 “The BCLTDRC has been life changing for me,” said Sandra Byars. “We have been involved in recovery efforts since 2012, in response to a tornado that touched down in Bolivar County, particularly in Alligator, Miss.,” continued Byars.  “There was flooding in 2016 and 2021, and throughout the years, we have developed partnerships that have evolved into lifelong, endearing friendships,” said Byars.  “Mrs. Morris and I have been with the BCLTDRC since its early inception in 2012 when  one of the incorporators, Rev. Walter Griffith, addressed the Bolivar County Retired Educational Personnel of Mississippi and recruited us as volunteers,” recalled Byars.   “We are truly indebted to Rev. Griffith, Hugh Holder-Cummings (deceased) and Richard Wright, the incorporators, and the many other individuals who saw the need to start a recovery committee for Bolivar County,” she stated.

In 2017, BCLTDRC was honored with the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence (GIVE) award for its efforts in disaster relief after the 2016 flood.  In 2016, following many meetings and collaborations with community entities, at the invitation of the BCLTDRC, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers arrived in Bolivar County in November of 2016 for assessment of clients’ needs.   They were back in December, bringing the flood victims an “early Christmas blessing” in the form of home repairs.  Around 27 homes that had been affected were identified by MDS volunteers and verified by UMCOR case managers.  Following the Christmas holidays, MDS arrived in Bolivar County, bringing around 30 volunteers, which included master carpenters and other individuals of all ages and genders, headed up by Orie Lehman, owner of Lehman Construction Company in Shipshewana, Indiana.  Larry Miller of Macon, Miss., volunteered as the project coordinator for repairs.  In May of 2023, Larry Miller and the MDS had 78 persons working in the county, devoting 4,728 hours to rebuilding and spending $12,764 from their own budget.

In June 2021, Rev. Darryl Johnson, pastor of the Walk of Faith Covenant Church in Mound Bayou, Miss., sent out a clarion call that help was desperately needed in Bolivar County.  Dale Lusk, International Director for Global Engagements for the Evangelical Covenant Church, answered the call and arrived in Bolivar County in early July.  By November, Lusk had recruited volunteers from as far away as Mexico, who came with a mind to work, completing as many homes as possible during the times that they were here.  Known as MERGE volunteers because of their assimilation within the community and acclimation to local culture, their only request was for a hot, evening meal each day.  “St. Luke United Methodist Church in Cleveland and Oakhurst Baptist Church in Clarksdale so graciously provided lodging for the MERGE and MDS volunteers,” said Morris.  “We are also indebted to the First United Methodist Church and the Oakhurst Baptist Church in Clarksdale for their support, as well,” she stated.  

MERGE and MDS volunteers have devoted countless hours in the rebuilding of affected homes in Bolivar County.  Volunteers, Mario Valdes from Mexico, Kim Rigg from California, Steve Johnson, Scott Burdesh and Mark Haas all from Minnesota, were in Bolivar County in early November of this year completing construction projects.  “MERGE volunteers have established a partnership with the BCLTDRC, and they will continue to come to the area, but not necessarily to do construction work,” stated Dale Lusk.  “This partnership will involve working with the Inside Out Academy, a program whose mission is to promote academic, social, and emotional growth among youths,” continued Lusk.  It is our intention to work with the elderly and assist with other organizations, as well,” he said.  “ We have a love for Bolivar County, and MERGE will be available to help in any way possible,” Lusk said.

The United Church of Christ is an inclusive and diverse community of Christians connected by faith that calls them to build a just world for all. Their ministries advocate at a national and global level, but their roots are planted firmly in local churches in communities.  The UCC denomination is comprised of 4,794 local churches in the United States, with 773,500 members, 10,000 authorized clergy leaders and 300 global partnerships.  “We feel exceedingly blessed to be included among the UCC’s many partners,” stated Morris.

The Bolivar County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee is a 501 (c)3 organization that subsists on donations, grants and fundraisers.  No member of the organization receives any remuneration of any kind, choosing instead to be of service to humanity.  

Tax deductible donations may be made at Cleveland State Bank, Cleveland, MS 38732, or mailed to Bolivar County Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee, PO Box 567, Mound Bayou, MS  38762.  “If anyone is looking for a charitable organization for a tax write off before December 31, please consider the BCLTDRC,” said Morris.  “We can be contacted by phone at 662-719-0090 and emailed at projectascend@yahoo.com,” she continued.

Contact: DeVoyce C. Morris

BCLTDRC

Phone 662.719.0090

Fax 662.741.2294

Email:  projectascend@yahoo.com

PO Box 567

Mound Bayou, MS  38762

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