Faith-Based Katrina Relief Groups Commit to Rebuilding Lives

Violent waves from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have yet to subside in their impact on U.S. Gulf Coast communities, where many cities are toughing out the staggering relief and recovery response.

Amid the struggles in aid work, faith-based and non-profit groups have continued to provide essential support to the hurricane victims, said President George Bush in a Lessons Learned Katrina report last week.

Short- and long-term recovery programs are underway for Church World Service workers. The global humanitarian agency has especially been reviving the education in Mississippi and Louisiana, awarding grants to schools and donating supplies.

CWS recently provided $600,000 in grants to help schools purchase teaching supplies, computers, audio/visual equipment, books, musical instruments and furniture along with $110,000 in school kits called "Gift of the Heart."

Out of hundreds of schools in the ravaged area, however, only a handful have managed to reopen this year and apply for the CWS grant program. CWS Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Lesli Remaly called it a "sad reality."

Schools are still under repair and some are using temporary accommodations to educate the region's children.

Focusing on the under-served populations, CWS is working with local community organizations in a long-term recovery plan that includes services for people whose needs are not being met and the establishment of new independent non-profit organizations for the sole purpose of filling disaster recovery needs.

Bush recognized the essential aid work faith-based and non-profit organizations have been providing during the crisis in his Katrina report on Feb. 23. He noted the work of Citizen Corps Council as well as the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the same time, he pointed to the glitches in how the government handled the critical situation, saying he was not satisfied with the federal response.

"The Federal response should better integrate the contributions of volunteers and non-governmental organizations into the broader national effort," stated the report.

As lessons are being learned from the disaster, faith-based groups remain committed in rebuilding lives.

"Our work will not be done until these people have gotten settled into new lives with all the help possible from Church World Service and the rest of the community of care," said John L. McCullough, Executive Director of Church World Service.