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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance offers how-to guide for volunteer work trips

Resource created with new generation of group leaders in mind

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — It is the season when volunteer work trips kick into high gear as groups from churches and other partners of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance show their love and compassion by helping with rebuilding projects in communities affected by disasters.

For groups that have one of these trips in their future, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has put together a free, downloadable how-to guide to assist with planning.

“Many folks who lead volunteer work trips have been doing so for decades, but since the pandemic, we’ve been encountering a new generation of group leaders who have never done this before and need a little help to get started,” said the Rev. Nell Herring, PDA Mission Specialist for Volunteer Ministries.

The Work Trip Planning Guide can help with site selection, financial planning, and work partnerships. It also has devotional resources and contact information for the PDA Call Center in case there is a desire for more information.

“I developed this resource in collaboration with PDA Host Site Coordinators and the NRT (National Response Team) Hosting Ministry Team,” Herring said. “Our hope is that the planning guide answers some of the most-asked questions and provides a framework for group leaders to begin planning trips. For additional questions or deeper conversation, this resource provides additional information about who to contact and how to get in touch.”

March through August is the peak season for volunteer trips, with some host sites receiving groups every week.

“Some of our host sites plan up to six months or even a year in advance. Other sites can squeeze groups in within a month or two,” Herring said. “It is helpful for group leaders to plan at least several months ahead of time so that they can book their preferred dates and location. There is no better time to start planning volunteer work trips than the present.”

Good planning can help to prevent injuries and contribute to relationship building in communities where volunteers are received.

The Rev. Nell Herring (Photo by Kimberly Mitiska)

“As noted in the planning guide, there is a lot that goes into building trust and mutual respect in disaster recovery,” Herring said. “Challenges related to health, safety and respecting local cultural norms can easily be prevented by prioritizing a few simple planning practices. Some are simple, such as organizing transportation, planning menus, and collecting group medical information. Others require more thought like educating volunteers on the cultural context, cultivating respectful story-sharing practices, scheduling time for group devotions and setting realistic expectations for group members.”

Herring added, “While a group leader will likely still experience hiccups here and there, the planning guide provides many helpful tools to avoid common mishaps and make the most of a volunteer work trip.”

The trips often benefit communities that have a limited number of professionals who can be contracted to do necessary work.

“PDA collaborates with work partners who prioritize uninsured or underinsured populations that otherwise might not recover from disaster,” Herring said. “For these homeowners, volunteer efforts can often be the difference in recovering from a disaster or not. … Through these recovery efforts, partnerships between volunteers, construction supervisors and displaced disaster survivors foster hope after devastating weather events.”

And volunteers also receive benefits.

“For volunteers, this work of disaster recovery can be transformative as well,” Herring said. “Many PDA volunteers encounter powerful stories of resilience and community recovery that can shift their pre-trip perspectives on disaster recovery, mission work and even theodicy. Finding ways to amplify the stories of the individuals and communities they meet on work trips can help volunteers encourage others to develop compassion for those displaced by disaster.”

For more information and resources, go here. Direct questions to the PDA Call Center: or (866) 732-6121.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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