Disaster Corps engages volunteers -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Disaster Corps engages volunteers

By Giovanni Taylor-Peace

Volunteers are the heart, soul and helping hands of Habitat for Humanity.

Touched by others’ losses, many people feel a compelling need to use their skills and experience to help disaster-affected families and communities return to normalcy.

Whenever they call Habitat for Humanity International and ask how they can help with long-term recovery, we introduce them to the Disaster Corps program.

The Disaster Corps concept has been under development at the area and international levels for quite a few years. First Builder teams organized after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 were a precursor to the Disaster Corps program now managed by the Global Disaster Response department at HFHI’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The concept of the program is to develop and maintain a strong contingent of volunteers who can support Habitat’s disaster response and preparedness initiatives worldwide.

Disaster Corps began as the result of a partnership between HFHI and the Corporation for National Community Service in the United States. The idea was to engage “baby boomers” in the community recovery work needed on the U.S. Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.

Spreading beyond the Gulf, in 2008 Disaster Corps volunteers assisted U.S. affiliates in Iowa and Indiana after flooding and in Iowa, Virginia and Tennessee following severe storms and tornados. Volunteers helped with cleanup, repairs and construction management for new builds.

While the First Builder initiative was focused on identifying and deploying skilled construction volunteers, Disaster Corps harnesses expertise in other areas that are needed to support disaster response projects, specifically management, resource development, logistics and communications.

This aligns with the Global Disaster Response department’s mission to build capacity at the field and regional levels to address post-disaster situations as well as key risk-reduction opportunities in an efficient and effective manner.

Disaster Corps volunteers are trained in disaster preparedness, the U.S. disaster assistance process, organizational capacity building, Habitat for Humanity’s mission and operating model and the psychology of disaster. This wide-ranging background information prepares volunteers to use their skills and experience in a post-disaster setting and to adapt to a rapidly-changing situation.

Flexibility is essential as volunteers fill in the gaps as a local affiliate’s staff and board members deal with long-term effects of the disaster in their personal and professional activities.

To date, more than 11,600 volunteer hours have been contributed to Habitat affiliates by Disaster Corps members. This represents a significant contribution in terms of work that may have been lacking while an affiliate struggled to recover on its own.

The Disaster Corps group currently consists of about 135 volunteers of varied skill and life experiences. There is potential for growth as the Global Disaster Response team finds ways to engage these volunteers in international work.

Moving forward, the focus for the program remains on making sure that interested volunteers—with or without specialized skills—can contribute to Habitat’s disaster response projects, so that more families can obtain safe, decent and affordable shelter.

These volunteers give their best when the need is greatest. We aim to provide them the means to restore hope by building stronger homes and communities throughout the world.

Giovanni Taylor-Peace is a specialist in global disaster response at Habitat for Humanity International.