Though we will never be able to relieve all the pain and heartbreak of May 20, 2022, the Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group will strive to help survivors recover from this tragic day.

The past 5 months have been filled with unique challenges, one particularly bright spot has been working with so many incredible individuals, organizations, and businesses from across our community, state, and country.  During a crisis, trusted partnerships are a vital resource and we have been extremely lucky to create and maintain some truly invaluable relationships. All our partners have been so amazing in their commitment to helping survivors recover from the 05.20.22 disaster. There are too many to highlight, but please know our hearts are filled with so much gratitude for all the kindness we have received.  

The day after the tornado struck people from all over the state and country were reaching out to OCF and Otsego County United Way (OCUW) to counsel our community on forming a long term recovery group. The mission of this group is truly to have a collective voice as our community recovers. 

The Gaylord Long-Term Recovery Group is made up of six subcommittees, with a steering committee leading the charge. The committees are:

  • Unmet Needs 
  • Construction and Volunteer Management 
  • Case Management 
  • Wellness
  • Public Relations
  • Community Assessment.

There are almost sixty community voices making up the Gaylord Long-Term Recovery Group. 

Our community has broken down stages of recovery into three segments.

Immediate:  Emergency response phase, ensuring people are safe and basic needs are met.

Short Term:  Remediation phase where the community is figuring out what rebuilding and repair needs to be done, working with insurance agencies, getting estimates, and capturing the big picture of what the road to recovery may look like.  

Long-Term: This portion of the response phase could go on for months to years after a disaster. This phase involves rebuilding but also encompasses taking steps to boost the local economy including looking at the communities’ deficits the disaster brought to light.

The Gaylord community is close to the tailend of short term recovery. 

During the immediate response phase there was outside aid that supported our community. The Red Cross was housed at E-Free for a couple of weeks and did provide survivors with home damage $500 scholarships. Survivors were also eligible to apply for low interest SBA loans. The State of Michigan issued our County half a million dollars to take the edge off the debris and trash removal bill. The Tzu Chi organization also dispensed $1,000 to survivors that had home damage as declared by the Red Cross. 

As we watch our friends in Florida recover from Ian, we might wonder why FEMA did not come to help us during our recovery. We did not meet the uninsured threshold for the criteria for FEMA to support the community as a declared disaster. Hence, we were an “undeclared disaster.” Without a Major Federal Disaster Declaration, there is no FEMA assistance for survivors. However, we have received astounding amounts of support from donors and organizations all over the country and state to guide us on our recovery journey.

Various organizations have raised dollars throughout the Greater Gaylord Community. However, these are the key organizations in the recovery process that have raised over 1.9 million dollars. 

OCUW was the boots on the ground organization during the immediate response of the tornado. The capacity of this small organization was tested. OCUW created new systems for intaking hundreds of volunteers, while case managing survivors to meet their basic needs, bringing in thousands of dollars in monetary, in-kind, and gift card donations- then distributing them. These policies and procedures were developed with high standards of accountability and transparency, with quick turnarounds to keep up with the demand. In the same breath keeping day-to-day operations afloat. Additionally, OCUW provided dumpsters for debris removal for the community and granted dollars to the Refuge to help them house survivors.

OCUW responded to clients that lost power during the first couple of days of the tornado. There were over 6,000 people that lost power, which resulted in food loss and a need for other supplemental services. The tornado struck during a very tumultuous time when there was limited baby formula and gas prices were skyrocketing. 

Like the OCUW the capacity of this small foundation organization was tested. Ensuring accountability and transparency while balancing donor wishes, community needs, and working to grant dollars quickly to organizations responding to the tornado. In 2020, neighboring communities had established endowed funds to meet urgent needs regarding Covid-19. They were able to immediately grant from those funds to assist nonprofits in serving basic needs. With no established fund, the OCF had to set up the COVID-19 fund, actively fundraise, and then award grants. Through this experience, the OCF was determined to grow flexible endowed funds that could be used not only for emergencies but to strengthen as well as sustain the nonprofit sector. And just like that, the tornado strikes, and once again without an established endowed fund the OCF has found themselves actively fundraising to ensure organizations like the United Way, Refuge, and Habitat for Humanity have the resources to deliver much-needed services to survivors.  The Tornado Response Fund (TRF) of the OCF was established to provide a centralized opportunity for donors to invest in disaster relief efforts and a support mechanism for nonprofit organizations responding to the crisis. This funds goal is to work collaboratively with the nonprofit, government, philanthropic and private sectors to accelerate recovery for a thriving, resilient, and even stronger Gaylord. To learn more about OCF and OCUW’s work together, click HERE

 OCF has been the key funder to the Refuge allowing them to take the charge in housing displaced survivors. The Refuge was instrumental in the emergency response in keeping survivors with a roof over their head and safe during the immediate response phase. The Refuge has continued to serve as vital support helping survivors navigate the social service and homeless system in Otsego County. 

OCF has been the key funder in Otsego-Antrim Habitat for Humanity’s response to the rebuilding and repair of survivors’ homes. Habitat has been an instrumental leader in the recovery process with leading the charge of repairing over 23 homes.  

VETS Inc. stepped up to the plate to fill a need via a grant from OCF, community partners, other funders and fundraisers to help survivors repair or obtain used vehicles.

A grant from OCF allowed the community to work with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), After the Storm. There have been two case managers and a construction manager brought on board. After the Storm has led the charge in effectively responding to recent disasters in Michigan. After the Storm has provided the Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group with mentorship, expertise, guidance on community collaboration, and has fostered Gaylord’s resiliency. 

Above and below are snapshots of the work the Disaster Case Managers have completed since onboarding on July 27. 

One of the main tasks the Disaster Case Managers do is help the Unmet Needs Committee (that has 26 community voices on it) navigate how dollars are distributed to survivors. The distribution of dollars is based on equity not equality. Dollars are distributed based on the need and vulnerability of survivors. Vulnerability factors could include age, disability, illness, or other risk factors. Please note, the dollars listed above are not taken out of the monies noted in the OCF and OCUW totals, these are additional dollars to be allocated to vendors that are working survivors (e.g. HVAC companies, stores that carry appliances, paying a landlord a security deposits at an apartment, paying a furniture store for new beds.)

Otsego County is in a housing crisis. The Refuge has been working with homeless individuals at record numbers beyond survivors. The community is trying to come up with creative solutions.

To play a role in alleviating the strain of the 48 demolished manufactured homes Otsego County approved a variance for Nottingham Mobile Home Park. Homes older than what the original ordinance was are now allowed with conditions; the older homes must be replaced within ten years. The manufactured homes can only be rented. They cannot be sold and are subject to annual inspections.

Additionally Community Financial Credit Union is offering special financing on mortgages on manufactured homes in Nottingham Forest. This incentive is only for manufactured homes within Nottingham Forest and it does not finance moving manufactured homes. The term set at a maximum of 180 months and ten percent down is generally required. There will be no fee to the borrower and valuation is required (lender ordered and paid). This is for purchase only, there is no minimum credit score and this financing is good for 18 homes.

The County variance and the special financing are not solutions reserved just for survivors but will help take the edge off the housing crisis that was exacerbated by the tornado.

Do you have an idea to help this crisis? If so, please send an email HERE.   

The pandemic showed us how much help our community needs in responding to:

  • Generational poverty
  • Access to physical and mental health
  • The lack of housing

The tornado highlighted these deficits more because we did not have pandemic safety nets in place via the American Rescue Plan to help vulnerable populations stay afloat.
The Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group is hopeful that the silver lining of this disaster is the unique opportunity to work together to make sustainable changes in Otsego County. 

There is a need to help tornado survivors rebuild and repair quickly as winter approaches and/or to have the jobs lined up for spring. There has been a longstanding shortage of skilled tradespeople — workers proficient in plumbing, electrical work, HVAC installation and repair, tree removal, and other crucial areas. If you are licensed and insured and think you might be able to help survivors get back into their homes safely and quickly, please reach out by sending an email HERE or calling Katie at: 989.293.5478. Or if you have a suggestion or someone that might be able to help please share their contact info. 

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