Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team holds annual meeting

Training session includes discussions on racism, white privilege

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – Each year, more than 100 Presbyterian elders, pastors, executives and lay leaders gather to pray, worship and learn how to help people during the worst times of their lives. This year, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance held its 21st National Response Team (NRT) meeting in Atlanta, where volunteers from all over the country met to reconnect and learn how they can best serve churches and communities in the midst of disaster.

“It certainly exceeded my expectations. It was my first year as coordinator and the transition to a new associate always brings with it some challenges,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response. “The transition from volunteer to associate was significant and it gave me a chance to be a facilitator of our volunteers.”

NRT member Vince Patton takes part in training during the NRT Annual Meeting in Atlanta recently. Photo provided by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

For the first time in years, there were no new members to bring into the fold, and that provided current NRT members with more advanced training in areas such as suicide awareness and intervention for volunteers. Kirk said they also covered racism and white privilege, which are being emphasized throughout the denomination.

“When we show up at disasters, we show up with a position of power and privilege because we come with resources and money to help people who may have lost everything. Then we drive away in our rented cars and go back to our hotels,” he said. “We just want all NRT members to be careful not to wear privilege on their sleeves as a way to manipulate or exercise power in an inappropriate way, but go in as a servant leader.”

Kirk says the team heard presentations from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). The team also worshipped in local congregations throughout the Greater Atlanta Presbytery.

“We went out in groups of seven to eight people and received very positive responses from the churches we visited,” Kirk said. “People appreciated making the connections between the people who volunteer in the communities and the gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.”

Individuals can serve as NRT volunteers with a minimum commitment of one month per year or with a National Volunteer Team (NVT) that can be deployed on a limited basis due to other responsibilities at home. Team members are called upon to help communities in natural or human-caused disasters including tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes, fires or violence-related events such as mass shootings.

Next year’s NRT meeting is scheduled for April 5–10 in Louisville, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about how to become a member of NRT.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies thanks to gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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