In September 1996, Hurricane Fran battered the Cape Fear Region with sustained winds of up to 120 mph, torrential rain, and a 12-foot storm surge. In the days and weeks that followed, dozens of relief agencies rushed to our aid, including disaster response teams of the United Methodist Church (UMC).
WARM grew out of the UMC’s Hurricane Fran response program. Twenty-five years later, WARM volunteers, funders, and staff members are still making critical repairs and accessibility upgrades that help families and individuals remain in their own homes and communities.
The lessons we’ve learned along the way have shaped the way we approach our work and have helped WARM serve over 1600 households in seven counties.
Lesson 1: Disasters are not fair.
As volunteers repaired the hurricane damage for low-income homeowners, they were shocked to find significant damage and deficiencies that predated the storm.
That’s right. The people hit hardest by Hurricane Fran were the same ones who were already struggling with housing crises before the storm. While it’s unfair, it makes sense. For example, the aging, dilapidated roofs were more easily damaged by hurricane force winds.
Unfortunately, most disaster response funding would only cover repairs related to storm damage. After storm repairs were completed, the volunteers were asked to walk away from families with broken plumbing systems, frail seniors without adequate railings, and many others who just didn’t have the resources to make costly repairs. The organizers of the UMC disaster response decided they could not abandon these brothers and sisters.
After learning this first and most painful lesson, the UMC leaders founded WARM to address safety, health, and accessibility issues regardless of what caused them.
Lesson 2: Collaboration is key.
Since our beginning, WARM has encouraged the participation of churches, clubs, businesses, and individuals who want to help end substandard housing. They volunteer, donate, and advise. We also have a strong referral network with other agencies that offer services we don’t.
But collaboration is more than that. It’s about doing more together – for multiple causes – than we could do on our own.
My favorite example is WARM’s long-term partnership with Cape Fear Community College’s plumbing department. CFCC students get real-world experience under the supervision of their instructor Michael Smith, a licensed plumber. WARM pays for materials and receives free skilled labor. Both organizations save thousands of dollars every year and have greater outcomes than we would without the partnership.
Building relationships takes time and creative energy. The lesson is: if invested in the right partners, the returns can be more fruitful than we’ve ever imagined.
Lesson 3: Housing impacts all aspects of life.
A safe, stable home provides a strong foundation for all other aspects of life. Homeownership itself brings a sense of pride and security.
Restoring the critical systems of the home means everything to a WARM family.
No longer worrying about home repairs, a cancer patient can focus on healing. Repairing a heating system allows an older adult to comfortably live out their golden years. A wheelchair ramp is independence for a disabled veteran. A stable home gives a child a peaceful place to read, write, and dream.
We’ve learned that meeting very basic housing needs helps to provide the footing needed to fully experience life. Keeping people in their homes is critical to stabilizing our neighborhoods and safeguarding our community.
These lessons and many others have inspired service, generosity, and hope for 25 years and will guide us into the future until the day that all homeowners in our region are safe in their own homes.
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