In March, as floodwaters started to flow through Nebraska and Iowa communities, many volunteers were mobilized across the state to assist on the front lines of the flooding. What the general public didn’t see was the work done behind the scenes to coordinate the various volunteer efforts taking place.
Volunteer relief efforts in Nebraska that are put into action during emergencies like the March flood are organized by the Nebraska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition consisting of 35 organizations that work together in preparedness and disaster response and recovery. The group partners with FEMA and state and county emergency management entities during emergency response, like they did in March. Some of the organizations that belong to the Nebraska VOAD include the United Way, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Response, Medical Reserve Corps, the statewide HAM radio operators, Team Rubicon, Save the Children, Convoy of Hope and many more.
Dr. Lisa Ashby, a 1988 Concordia graduate and professor of English, has been a member of the Nebraska VOAD since 2005 and has served as the coalition’s chair since 2016. She joined the coalition first with Noah’s Canine Crisis Response Team, a nonprofit organization that takes crisis response dogs to disaster sites, with handlers who are trained in critical incident stress management, spiritual and physical care.
“I have felt what VOAD does is very, very important and I felt a responsibility to step up and help with an amazing group of people,” Ashby said.
After the flooding started to hit communities in March, Ashby got the call to report immediately to the emergency operations center located at the Nebraska National Guard base in Lincoln. As the VOAD chair, Ashby was responsible for coordinating volunteer organizations’ deployment to different Nebraska communities as she worked with the various state emergency agencies. Someone from VOAD was required to be at the conference table at all times, so the VOAD leadership committee alternated shifts to have their place covered 24 hours each day.
“The biggest objective is we want to make sure people are taken care of,” Ashby said. “we want to make sure communities are strong and they are able to move forward in recovery from disasters and to make sure that the next time a disaster occurs that they are well-equipped.”
The Nebraska VOAD was recognized by ServeNebraska and presented with the Step Forward Award in the Disaster Group category Oct. 25, for their time and service in response to the March flooding. More than six months later, work still continues in communities that were affected, long-term recovery efforts will be in place across the state for some time, Ashby said.
“One thing that’s really important for people to realize is the long-term damage that was caused by the flooding,” she said. “It’s not over yet by any means.”
In addition to the immediate support VOAD provides to communities during a disaster, Ashby said VOAD provides training to organizations that are helping with the long-term relief efforts in Nebraska. So far, VOAD has trained eight organizations in Nebraska and also sponsored disaster case management training for about 25 people to be trained as disaster case managers.
“Peoples’ hearts are most moved when you see the immediate impact, but the long-lasting devastation isn’t on the evening news,” Ashby said. “There is a lot of assistance that’s still needed. It’s also prayers and support that people need, too. We believe in the power of prayers and you have people who are still having emotional stress that is caused by these events. We need our prayer warriors out there, as well as our drywallers.”
As Ashby continues her work with VOAD, she’s been energized by the amount of faith-based organizations that step up to help others in their time of need.
“That is something that has really fed me throughout this entire process,” she said, “is that you see the church really being out there and helping people and working together to make sure that happens.”
To learn more about the Nebraska VOAD and learn how your nonprofit organization can be involved, please visit the organization’s website.