United Way, Red Cross continue work to aid recovery

As we mark one year since the Oso landslide, the American Red Cross and United Way remain committed to the long-term recovery of the Stillaguamish Valley. In the immediate hours following this complex and unprecedented disaster, the nature of this recovery became clear: It would be a marathon, not a sprint. In the first days of the disaster response, we made a promise to the families and communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington that we would stand by them to provide support for the long term.

A year on, the recovery process continues. Our hearts remain with the survivors and everyone affected by this tragic event. We applaud the awarding of the Medal of Valor this week to the community members of Darrington, Oso, Arlington and the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe. Together we witnessed their tremendous effort in the rescue and recovery mission, a Herculean task. They did so at great personal risk and sacrifice and have remained at the heart of this year-long response. They are the heroes in our midst.

As a part of the ongoing response, the Red Cross and United Way have provided assistance to those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, those who lost their homes and the impacted communities. We also recognize that in terms of recovery, “one size does not fit all.” Each individual, family and community requires a tailored approach to meet specific needs. We are also looking to the future by looking after the most vulnerable: the children affected by this tragic disaster. We’ve joined forces to provide funding for a full-time counselor for three years at Darrington Elementary School. Through social gatherings and art programs, emotional support is provided to help guide 180 school children through the grieving process.

This is just one of several ways that the Red Cross and United Way have worked together to address the diverse needs of survivors and rebuild stronger communities. Another point of collaboration is the ongoing support of disaster case managers who have been instrumental in working with families and individuals on a case-by-case basis to help them move from addressing immediate needs to thinking about long-term recovery. They are fulfilling our promise to help those families get back on their feet.

In the days and weeks after the landslide, our organizations applied our collective 175 years of local experience and knowledge to the response. The Red Cross, as a humanitarian organization that is active in emergency response, immediately provided basic needs: food, shelter, health services and emotional support to affected families and first responders. More than 500 volunteers mobilized from the Puget Sound area, the state of Washington and from across the country. Trained case managers registered anyone affected by the mudslide — 675 all told — and connected them with resources to help them get assistance.

United Way of Snohomish County, with close ties to local groups and experience bringing the community together, worked through the North Counties Family Services and Arlington Family Resource Project to provide direct assistance to families affected by the landslide and worked with Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management to help organize the individual volunteers that wanted to help. They also recognized that local groups would need organizational support as they incurred additional costs in response to the slide.

From the very early days following this disaster, we sat together at many tables, for many conversations to identify how we could do this best—to meet diverse needs and not duplicate efforts. That collaboration continues today. No single agency, or even two large agencies, can respond alone to a disaster of this scale. We’ve been fortunate to work with dozens of exceptional partners. They have guided us into the affected communities and provided the valuable insight and perspective to ensure that we achieve the greatest reach and impact.

This close collaboration, long-term vision and commitment to community have been hallmarks of the Red Cross and United Way and serve as a model for how two organizations can and should work together.

We will never forget those who were lost. We will always owe a debt of gratitude to the first responders, representatives of county, state and federal government, local elected officials, local community groups, and local churches and residents who have helped the community along this journey over the past year. While there is still much work to do, the last 12 months have taught us that it takes an entire community to recover and that together we are stronger.

Chuck Morrison is the executive director for the American Red Cross, Snohomish County Chapter and Dr. Dennis G. Smith is the president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County.

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