Bradley County lauded for its tornado recovery efforts

Bradley County lauded for its tornado recovery efforts

August 28th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

A tarp protects a storm-damaged house in Cleveland, Tenn.


To become a case manager for the Bradley County Long Term Recovery Organization or to make a donation, contact case manager Lisa Mantooth at 479-8575

Just two weeks into her new job as a case manager for tornado victims, Lisa Mantooth keeps waking up in the middle of the night.

"I just suddenly remember a need we have to deal with or a resource we haven't tapped. It's always on my mind," said Mantooth, who was hired to work for the nonprofit Bradley County Long Term Recovery Organization in early August.

After two weeks of town hall meetings and neighborhood canvassing to assess needs in the county, the organization is compiling case files for victims, drawing up specific needs lists and linking donors to those needs.

The independent organization was developed shortly after the April 27 tornadoes to provide free services for those who got insufficient or no help from insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

At this beginning stage, the database of those with active case files includes about 80 people. But Jim Polier, the organization's director, said he expects that number to swell as the organization makes more connections with storm victims.

"We're still adding to it," Polier said. "Some people are just now calling us for the first time."

Though the organization's work is still in its early stages, disaster recovery agencies have lauded the speed and scope of the group's and the community's efforts.

"We would like to recognize the exemplary achievements we witnessed in Bradley County," evaluators from the county's FEMA Rebuild Team wrote in their final report. "This effort has brought new ideas in service to community which ultimately drives the success of the recovery.These achievements will be recognized as 'best practice' in long-term community recovery planning and implementation."

A group of volunteer assessment workers with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee also left a glowing exit report about Bradley County's efforts after spending two weeks canvassing the county, visiting 472 properties, making 603 phone calls and sending out 963 emails to storm victims.

"The community itself has a strong work ethic," the report reads. "They seem to want to do as much as possible to recover using their own resources."

Polier says the group is encouraged by the praise, but still has a long list of things to do in a recovery process he estimates could take five years.

The committee has to work with starkly different levels of recovery. The group has files for people who are just about to move back into a rebuilt structure, while others haven't taken even the first steps to clear out the rubble.

If Mantooth meets with a client who appears to have a long road to recovery, she assigns them a volunteer case manager.

At this point, she has 13 families needing case managers, and eight trained volunteers working under her. A dozen people are in line for training.

Those volunteering for that post are from a range of backgrounds, everyone from stay-at-home moms to retirees, Mantooth said.

"There are so many people wanting to help," she said. "They want to see their neighbors and their neighborhoods back on their feet."

On Aug. 31, she will go before the organization's Unmet Needs Committee to present a register of items people need as they rebuild, from mattresses and refrigerators to new septic systems.

That committee will then try to connect those families with nonprofit organizations and churches that have agreed to help provide donations.

Anna Crumley, 13, sweeps at A-1 Closeouts, 2256 Spring Place Road, in Cleveland after tornadoes tore through the area. Staff Photo by Beth Burger/Chattanooga News Free Press

Anna Crumley, 13, sweeps at A-1 Closeouts, 2256...

The "matchmaking" service, started at Lee University, is called the Adopt One Campaign. Mantooth said it's a critical step in swiftly bringing tornado victims back to what she calls a "new normal."

"I have families that are getting places to live, but they've lost everything. Even with great insurance, things are still missing," explained Mantooth.

One family she works with has a place to live now, but no beds. They've all been sleeping on pallets. Mattresses - and a good night's sleep - can be a crucial part of their emotional recovery, she said.

Emotional and mental healing are also at the top of the group's to-do list. Polier and Mantooth are working with Hiawassee Mental Health to link people still suffering from tornado-related trauma to counseling.

"We still have people who become anxious when it gets dark and the wind blows," said Polier. "That shows us that there's still a lot of healing that needs to happen."