Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Partners in Prayer for Schools, Lake Charles, LA

12/20/2008

Partners in Prayer (PIPS), unlike other cases studied, played an instrumental role early in relief efforts, but only a small part in a complex disaster response in five southwestern Louisiana parishes largely led by the mayor of Lake Charles. Established in 1999 in reaction to the Columbine school shootings, PIPS was a largely informal two-person volunteer recruitment organization based in Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana that aimed to reduce school violence by promoting parental involvement in school, volunteerism, and prayer. In its advocacy for prayer and voluntarism, PIPS had created a unique database of local congregations that became a key part of hurricane relief efforts.

Key Features of Partners in Prayer for Schools
  • A conduit to local congregations for larger public relief efforts.
  • Use of public funding and previous experience with volunteer coordination.
  • Disaster response work ended and principal now part of United Way

Immediately after Katrinas landfall, 15,000 to 20,000 evacuees began showing up in southwestern Louisiana parishes needing shelter. In response, a group of about 26 churches, government agencies, and businesses, calling themselves Moss Bluff Disaster Relief (MBDR), met in a church in Moss Bluff; PIPS provided its church list and offered to send out an invitation to house evacuees. PIPS used the MBDR web site as a clearinghouse to match evacuees with emergency housing, reportedly referring about 10 Katrina evacuees a day to a distribution site and linking them with housing. It used another web site, Share Your Home, to match evacuees with potential hosts around the country, with small success.

Within three weeks, Rita forced the Lake Charles area to evacuate both Katrina evacuees and local residents. On return within days, the PIPS director was invited to attend the twice-weekly meetings of the Human Services Resource Initiative (HSRI), a group of government, faith-based and nonprofit organizations convened by the mayors office and a precursor to the Calcasieu Parish Long-Term Recovery Group. The United Way, a member of the HSRI, had begun looking for housing for the many volunteers coming to Lake Charles to assist in recovery work and PIPS helped identify an abandoned middle school building in Moss Bluff large enough to house over 200 volunteers. The United Way received permission from the school district to use the building in exchange for repairs and upkeep, the Salvation Army donated 200 beds, a local culinary school helped renovate the kitchen, and volunteers made repairs.

While PIPS was an early presence in the Lake Charles disaster response, it had a relatively short role as a separate entity. It assisted in the collaboration between the local school board and the United Way to renovate the school building, and through the local Workforce Investment Board received a U.S. Department of Labor National Emergency Grant in November 2005, to use 30 Katrina victims to conduct basic needs assessments for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Disaster Recovery Center on referrals from the HSRI. By May 2006, PIPS had conducted more than 4,000 assessments for residents of the five southwestern parishes (Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, Allen, and Beauregard). By the next year the director was hired by the United Way to manage the Volunteer Housing Center, which houses AmeriCorps volunteers and others who help in the rebuilding process. The Center also serves as an emergency housing location for first responders.

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