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Helping the helpers

"Helping the helpers" Continued...

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

But even as the federal government improves its approach, concerns remain, like should faith-based groups accept government funds? "I think it's unbelievably needed," Bond said. In Greensburg, there was only one other WHI staff member to assist him. "How do you meet the needs of the people with no staff?" He suggested government monies could boost staff numbers in some of these smaller voluntary organizations.

On the other hand, the Stafford Act stipulates the types of services for which voluntary agencies could seek reimbursement. "You can't buy religious materials with federal funds," John Kim Cook told WORLD. "So, you might have to separate some of your programs."

Mary Marr, head of Christian Emergency Network (CEN), said taking federal money is a dangerous move. "For us, we feel like we've been able to be freer to maintain our biblical integrity by not taking any funds," she told WORLD. "It has allowed us to be neutral, even within Christian organizations." She explained that a lot of competition takes place among voluntary agencies for government monies.

Another significant question: How can the federal government better equip volunteers from faith-based groups? One of the main problems that surfaced during Katrina was that many well-intentioned volunteers were not certified to provide professional assistance to victims or to clean up an area that had been destroyed.

"The value of faith-based organizations is that they're highly mobile," Bond said. "But, [they] get really overzealous."

Marr said that local volunteers should be certified or else they can become "a drain, not an encouragement." Although local governments can provide certification, as of now, there is no federal credentialing system in place for volunteers. They're working on it, Cook told WORLD.

As the Bush administration winds down, disaster preparedness continues to ramp up. In honor of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, on May 29 and 30, the White House sponsored a New Orleans conference on disaster preparedness for leaders from more than 1,000 organizations, with special guests Laura Bush, Maj. Gen. Doug O'Dell, and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.

Marr worries whether the emphasis will continue after Bush leaves office: "If we cannot continue to see things move forward in terms of dialogue and cooperation . . . it will so quickly erode."

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