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Answering the Call After the Storm

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Hurricane season is an anxious time for Americans living along the coastal regions of the United States. But when Tropical Storm Lee spread its destruction inland last September, volunteer leaders like Bruce Barney and Sharon Early made a difference in their community's recovery efforts. Their commitment led to their selection as 2012 Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service award recipients.

Destruction in Broome County, NY by the remnants of Topical Storm Lee. (Photo by Adam DuBrowa, FEMA)

In New York, record levels of flooding from the storm forced 20,000 people in Broome County, NY, to evacuate their homes. Volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church of Endicott, NY, were ready to mobilize as the waters receded, and church members Barney and Early led the charge – often behind the scenes – coordinating the effort to make sure that help found those in need.

Early served as the communications liaison for the recovery efforts, making sure information flowed between the church, community groups, volunteers, and flood victims. She staffed a makeshift office, worked the phones, and secured equipment and supplies. Barney assessed the cleanup and recovery projects, assigned work crews, and kept in touch with flood victims as they worked through the phases of putting their lives back together.

Together, Barney and Early led an effort that involved 10-hour days, seven days a week after the floodwaters struck, and they worked almost continuously for the first three months. Their guidance helped crews work effectively as they pumped out homes, removed water-damaged items, and disinfected surfaces.

Before the end of September, the church completed work in nearly 100 homes with dozens more in the queue for assistance. The church, its volunteers, and Early vow to continue their efforts as the recovery enters the rebuilding phase, and Barney intends to remain involved on a community wide level.

Church officials received numerous accolades for their work, but few say it better than this note from one of the flood victims that received assistance:

Soon after the flood, a group of thinly disguised angels came to my house. They cleared out everything from my basement, including a refrigerator, Ping-Pong table and all my Christmas decorations, plus a lot more. They were wonderfully thorough.”

“Some angels don't have wings … They have gloves, boots and face masks.”

The Martin Luther King Drum Majors for Service program gives organizations and groups an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate those volunteers who perform extraordinary everyday acts of service with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition. Drum Major awardees receive an award from the Corporation for National and Community Service designating that person as a “Drum Major for Service” with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

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