Faith-based and neighborhood partnerships have been a key part of the conversation and discussion at the 18th Annual National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD) conference. The conference, held in Orlando this past week, was at maximum capacity as it brought together more than 530 people representing multiple national VOAD organizations and local VOAD members in 55 states and territories as well as emergency management partners and private sector partners.
You might be asking yourself, what is a VOAD? The first thing I can tell you is that National VOAD is a key partner of FEMA and the DHS Faith/Community Center. National VOAD is a nonprofit membership organization whose members are national nonprofit organizations whose mission includes programs in disaster preparedness, response and/or recovery. Since its founding, state and local equivalents of VOAD have emerged to foster cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration at the state and local level--the heart of any disaster response.
This conference is one of the only times during the year that these groups come together in non-disaster events. Our Center at DHS contributed to the training and discussions here at the conference by providing expertise from FEMA headquarters and from Voluntary Agency Liaison offices throughout the 10 FEMA regions to participate in and lead workshops and seminars.
Highlights of the conference included presentations by Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the Office of White House Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. DuBois said, "You make wonders happen." He described the work of disaster volunteers and staff gathered at the conference: "With the government's partnership and your works of faith and service, people made hungry and homeless from disaster are fed and housed." In the wake of recent tornadoes, floods and storms, DuBois emphasized the point that federal government cannot help everyone alone. "You [volunteer] not because you have been assigned to do it. No one has conscripted anyone into service. You are there, voluntarily, because you cannot do otherwise."
Administrator Fugate added to these thoughts by commending the 40 years of work and success of the volunteers of National VOAD:
Just as FEMA is not the whole team, we are part of the team, and the team is strengthened by your efforts in assisting your neighbors during their time of need. We appreciate all the work you have done and we look forward to your contributions over the next 40 years and beyond to help ensure this nation is prepared for all emergencies.
David Myers is Director for the Center for Faith-based and Community Initaitives at the Department of Homeland Security