UMVIM Volunteers Rebuild in Yukon


When the Yukon River in Alaska flooded behind an ice dam in late May, over 1,200 miles of the river flooded many small and remote villages. Galena, about 200 miles west- northwest of Fairbanks was one of the largest, with about 500 permanent residents and 230 boarding school students. With all but a very few homes damaged, some extensively, connections to the outside world by only barge and air, and extreme winter weather conditions, Galena needed help quickly. (Photo above left to right:  Richard Finney, Wayne Larsen, and Becky Platt with back to camera. Photo by Penn Gildersleeve.)

Becky Platt of the Oregon-Idaho Conference and nine others from around the US flew to Alaska to help rebuild homes the last two weeks of August. They were Team 2 out of eight total United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) teams that have gone to help. Their mission experience was unusual in that few of the participants knew each other prior to coming together as a mission team. Platt met the other volunteers, Richard Finney, Penn Gildersleeve, Chuck Graves , Robert Humphrey, Sarah Flesher, Jessica Flesher, Dan Birkhimer, Don Ebensberger, and Wayne Larsen, for the first time when they gathered at Fairbanks UMC prior to flying to Galena.

At its heart, this was a rebuild and repair mission, intent on weatherizing homes for the winter.  Homes in Galena are built on permafrost and winter temperatures of -60F not uncommon. The group did a lot of work under houses, installing new insulation to replace that which was soaked in the flood. They also installed new wall insulation and sheetrock and did various “odd” repair jobs that resulted from the flood. Team 2 was blessed with a great skill mix running from those who knew how to stabilize things like rickety porches to those who understood the finer details of getting a door to hang properly.

What was their biggest challenge? “Supplies,” said Platt. “You don’t realize how much you count on having Home Depot or Lowe’s down the road until you don’t. The nearest place to buy a screw, a nail or an extra piece of sheetrock was Fairbanks, some 300 miles away by air.”

While the primary requirement for all members of this mission was construction and/or remodeling experience, Becky Platt had prepared to join a team like this by taking the Early Responder Team (ERT) training from UMCOR and the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Leadership training.  The Galena project was unusual, she says, in that it was a combination of both. The structure and environment were more that of an ERT mission, while the work was more that of UMVIM long-term rebuild team.  It was also unusual in that it was supported in large part by FEMA, rather than UMCOR and volunteer fundraising, due to the urgency of getting the work done in a remote area with a very limited building season.

When asked how the experience affected her, Platt answered, “On a practical level, it made me realize how very lucky I am to live where I have convenient access to food, fuel, building supplies and all the other things we take for granted.  On a more spiritual level, I found myself in awe of the power of nature to destroy and of God to inspire the people of Galena to come together, to help each other and to put their community back together.  It was an amazing experience to be part of a community, even for two short weeks, that was sharing its resources so freely, for the sake of the community, rather than the individual. When you see communities brought to their knees and then standing strong, it’s a powerful reminder of the strength we have when we are in community together, walking our faith.”

(Pictured above left is Jessica Flesher, removing and replacing insulation under a floor.  Center photo is of the camp where Team 2 stayed in Galena, AK. Above right: Team 2.  Photos by Becky Platt and Robert Humphrey.)


Read her blog here  http://beckyplattalaska.wordpress.com

This link has information on Western Jurisdiction training opportunities, including upcoming ERT training in Vancouver, WA and the Disaster Academy in Federal Way:  http://www.umvimwj.blogspot.com/

This is a link to UMCOR’s domestic disaster response info:  http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/emergencies/domestic/

Watch a video of the flooding here.