TO: Ellen Lehman, Community Foundation of Middle TN
FM: Jay Voorhees, an observer along the way
RE: WSMV story tonight
I’ve been watching the series this week by Dennis Ferrier of WSMV regarding flood relief efforts with interest. As you know the group that I have worked with along the way, Southeast Nashville Recovery, has been involved in these efforts from the earliest days, and have walked with you as we have attempted to address the needs of our community. It’s been a tough road, with bumps along the way, and yet I know that all of us are working as best we are able to alleviate the suffering of our neighbors throughout the region.
I understand the frustration expressed by some of our neighbors in the story, and confess that I too fell prey to some of those feelings in the early days, when all of us were struggling to find the resources needed to address the early stages of the recovery. However as we’ve been engaged in this work we too have learned that our recovery efforts are indeed a marathon effort, not a sprint, and that we must be careful stewards of that which has been entrusted to us so that it is used both wisely and broadly.
One of the problems that I think has not been communicated well is the breadth of the destruction and the amount of fund truly needed for rebuilding. To most of us, $8 million dollars seems like a lot of money. And in our desire to honor our donors we have sometimes fallen pray to lifting up the size of these gifts. And yet, let’s assume that only half of the over 2,000 homes damaged in Nashville in the flood need assistance with their rebuild efforts. Given the averages we’ve seen so far of $10,000 per home, that adds up to $10 million dollars, a figure that assumes no administrative costs in offering assistance. The fact is that cost of full recovery for this flood well exceeds the moneys donated so far, so it’s understandable that you want to be careful in how that money is allocated.
And yet, in spite of the innuendo of the stories this week, you have in fact been engaged in helping average Nashvillians in all sorts of ways. I have seen this first hand through the work of the 8 Days of Hope effort this week, a project sponsored by area faith groups which you have supported through a grant of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those moneys have been used to provide the materials used by over 1,100 volunteers this week in putting up drywall, replacing flooring, and all the other tasks required to restore homes back to livable conditions. Without the support of the Community Foundation these 1,100 persons would be twiddling their thumbs, wanting to help but unable to do much without supplies. At the end of the week, it is likely that 100’s of homes will be further on the way toward recovery, and this could not have happened without the support of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
Seven months after the flood it is expected that some will be disillusioned with the pace of recovery efforts. Our culture is not known for patience, and the degree of stress and difficulty is great, leading some to lash out in their need to get back to normality as quickly as possible. However I know that is your goal as well. Your organization has clearly wanted to get help to the folks that need it as quickly as possible, and I applaud what you have been doing, recognizing that care must be taken to avoid squandering funds for additional needs that arise.
That is something else that Dennis and others may not understand. As crazy as it sounds we are still discovering folks in need that have slipped through all the cracks of those organizations offering assistance. Just this week in the midst of the 8 Days of Hope project we have identified 70 new properties in need of assistance that have had no contact with any of the relief organizations. The fact is that help is indeed available — through your work and through the various organizations like Southeast Nashville Recovery, West Nashville Disaster Relief, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, North Nashville Flood Recovery, and of course, the Restore the Dream case management centers. But your ability and our ability to help is only possible when we are aware of the needs.
So thanks for what you have done so far, and thanks for what you will do in the future. You are in the unenviable position of trying to ensure that money is wisely spent in the face of great need, and as a result there will be some who will feel that their needs are not adequately addressed. Please know that I continue to stand with you, knowing that your hearts are committed to helping the most people possible with the resources our neighbors have entrusted to you.
Grace and peace to you in the work ahead,