by P!N Staff Writer/Editor Suzie Ahlers
In 2002 the Brookings Institute published an article asking “The Volunteering Decision: What Prompts It? What Sustains It?” For many, a major motivator to be involved in relief efforts is through opportunities provided by their places of worship. Examples abound of teens involved in mission work to hurricane-struck regions, as well as various church groups that provide immediate emergency relief and others that return year after year to provide sustained recovery efforts to hard-hit regions such as New Orleans & Texas.
Faith-based volunteerism is vital in relief effots for many reasons; first and foremost, places of worship often serve as shelters in severe weather and therefore become a connection point for affected community members who need support and services. Also, these volunteers reach out in ways that are not always obvious but still important. Although volunteer efforts often focus on physical needs, Waco Tribune writer Cindy V. Culp recently reported on a Texas program where a team of crisis volunteers tend to people’s psychological and spiritual needs after major disasters. The program was piloted after Hurricanes Ike and Rita in 2008, and responds to disasters including hurricanes, pandemic illness and terrorist attacks.
Organizations such as The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life examine the relationship between religious groups and human services providers and government, as well as public opinion on the topic. Controversy can arise over the ties between religious groups and government agencies, as found in public discourse such as The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy’s roundtable discussion entitled Assessing the Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Disaster Response. There is great value in exploring these social issues and discussing how federal money is allocated and how programs are assessed for cost value. Still, the role of faith-based organizations not only in spearheading relief efforts after disasters but also in encouraging preparedness cannot be ignored.
Regardless of the controversy, the politics and continous debate, the final word comes from hurricane victims themselves on the great need for these outreach efforts. In a 2006 NPR report from correspondent David Schaper, he quotes Biloxi, MS City Councilman Bill Stallworth: “We could not have survived without the help of volunteers. I pray to God every day, that he keeps sending volunteers.”
Read the transcript of the June 2009 speaker event “Government Partnerships With Faith-Based Organizations: Looking Back, Moving Forward” hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.