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Volunteer group helps local veteran return home

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Polk County Recovers, the county’s long-term recovery group, recently celebrated one of its first success stories when the organization helped a local veteran return to his home after it was severely impacted by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. (l-r) Polk County Recovers Board President Vernon Ware, Precinct 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent, Homeowner Robert Johnson and Johnson’s son, Mark Johnson. Courtesy photoPolk County Recovers, the county’s long-term recovery group, recently celebrated one of its first success stories when the organization helped a local veteran return to his home after it was severely impacted by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. (l-r) Polk County Recovers Board President Vernon Ware, Precinct 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent, Homeowner Robert Johnson and Johnson’s son, Mark Johnson. Courtesy photo

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Polk County Recovers celebrated a success story recently when the organization helped a local veteran return to his home after it was severely impacted by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.

“This was a long road for Mr. Robert Johnson who soon after his home flooded due to the freeze, he had a car accident resulting in him being airlifted to Houston and spending much of the past year in a rehabilitation facility. Thankfully, he recovered from his accident, but his home was not livable for some time,” County Recovery Liaison Melissa Gates said.

Through the efforts of Polk County Recovers, the county’s recognized long-term recovery organization, and Randy Hill of Randy’s Handyman Services, and with funding available from St. Bernard Project (SBP), Johnson’s home was completed in April of this year.

“Due to his extended time receiving fulltime care, the transition back home was delayed so that he could be properly prepared for independent living.” Gates said. “At long last he is back in his home and on Aug. 5 he was welcomed back by Polk County Recovers Board President Vernon Ware, Precinct 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent, his son Mark from Minnesota, and myself.”

Polk County Recovers is the name of the county’s Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) which was formed about a year ago. A LTRG is a cooperative body that is made up of representatives and volunteers from faith-based, non-profit, government, business and other organizations working within a community to assist individuals and families in their recovery after a disaster such as hurricanes or tornados.

Recovery is that time in which communities and organizations help affected households develop and implement plans on how to best move forward following disaster, and by providing trusted viable resources. This time period can be months to years.

One of the main goals of an LTRG is to assist individuals and families with long-term recovery following a natural or man-made disaster by determining their unmet needs through a case management program and working to obtain the resources necessary to meet those needs while avoiding duplication of services.

“It was a pleasure working on this project and helping Mr. Johnson return home, but this would not have been possible without the funding from SBP,” Gates said.

SBP, or St. Bernard Project, is a nonprofit, disaster relief organization. After temporarily volunteering in St. Bernard Parish, La. after Hurricane Katrina, Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenburg returned permanently in March 2006 and founded the project. The organization eventually expanded to include offices in Baton Rouge, La., Joplin, Mo., Columbia, S.C., New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia.

“Since 2017, SBP’s SHARE Intervention has granted $6.7 million to dozens of rebuilding partners across five disaster-impacted states, shared 72 AmeriCorps members and trained 1,073 individuals from 31 organizations on disaster recovery best practices. The added capacity led to their partners rebuilding more than 800 homes for families than SBP could have done alone,” Gates said.

Polk County Recovers received its 501(c)3 non-profit status and is presently working on the construction of its website as it continues to seek available funding sources.

Polk County Recovers’ board has undergone disaster leadership team training and meets regularly. “I have a great board. These are active people who participate. I’m blessed by the group that we have put together,” Gates said.

 Gates also serves as the county’s veterans service officer. She said that additional training is on the horizon and that she really wants to put together a veterans group as responders.

So what does Polk County Recovers need most? Money, manpower and materials. To learn more about the organization, or to volunteer, contact Gates at 936-933-2735.

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