Frustrations from the Front Lines

Today, a few of us ventured out to Bridgeton, a community that was hit hard by the Good Friday Tornado.  It is a wealthier neighborhood than what we have been used to working in and it has not received any assistance through AmeriCorps or All Hands and the United Way yet. 

Although it received a direct hit in the path of the storm, our focus has been poorer neighborhoods to the East where many of the homeowners are unable to pay for the services of removing debris and repairs.  Many of the houses we saw have sustained major damage, but most of them have already had private contractors and the initial flood of volunteers work in and around their homes. 

Our job today was to go around and completing damage assessments and getting waivers signed by homeowners.  While most of the locals were nice and cooperative, we were met with some hostility from several residents. 

While I do understand the need for us to get waivers signed and do all the paper work, I also understand the anger and frustration when we show up, almost a month after the storm came through, with pens and paper, selling a promise. 

We’ve seen hints of hostility throughout the past couple weeks, but nothing compared to the words we received today.   We approached a homeowner who was clearing debris from her yard, introduced ourselves as members of AmeriCorps working with the United Way, and she immediately went off on us. 

“Why do you come with pens and paper?”  (note:  this is not word-for-word, just a summary)  “We’ve had enough people come pushing pens and selling promises, if you want to help, pick up something and work.” 

She was angry.  And I don’t blame her. 

Just a couple blocks down the road, as we approached another home owner, he told us (a little more politely) that he was not taking anything that anybody had to offer, he didn’t want or need anybodys help. 

It didn’t help that there were also several comments and replies to hostile home owners throughout the day that also got under my skin. 

When we immediately become defensive when confronted with hostility, we don’t help the situation, but make everything even more tense.  When we make comments about how it makes us feel worse when we see nicer homes destroyed or damaged because we don’t feel as bad when the homes are already in poor shape, we are not approaching the situation with the right mindset to begin with. 

Yes, there is resentment because we did not respond immediately to the aid of one community because we were helping another that had a more urgent need.  Yes, there have been too many people who have taken advantage of the disaster for profit, hitting entire communities with scam after scam.  Yes, there are people willing to voice their opinions of us volunteers, both to our faces and behind our backs. 

But it’s how we respond that makes us different.  And that is what we need to focus on, reactions and response. 

God Bless and PEACE

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