Self-Help Shares

Responding to Disasters: Snapshots of Our Volunteers

By Staff
  | Dec 01, 2016

Two volunteer fire fighters in western NC, Nov. 2016

Two volunteer fire fighters near the Pinnacle Mountain fire. The man on the right is long-time Self-Help member Randy Moretz of Brevard. Photo by Danny Britt.

Today as most of us go about our daily business, thousands of volunteers in North Carolina are working on disaster relief. In the west, fire fighters from all over the country are battling multiple wildfires.In the recently flooded east, teams of volunteers have begun the hard work of repairing homes and caring for displaced families.

Recovering from these disasters will take a long time—likely many years. We are painfully aware that too many families may never get back on their feet.

Among those living in the immediate area devastated by Hurricane Matthew, we at Self-Help estimate that 22% were already living in poverty.

See more impact estimates below.

Self-Help has many members, partners and staff who have been directly affected by the flooding and the fires, and many who are pitching in to help. Here we salute just a few of our volunteers by offering short first-hand glimpses into their work.    

After the Floods

Assessing the Damage in Windsor

When the final surge of Hurricane Matthew rushed through the small town of Windsor, NC, many buildings—including Self-Help’s branch office—were surrounded by water (see photo below). Branch manager Norma Wesson got permission from local police to enter Self-Help’s branch to check the damage. “By the way,” they said, “watch out for snakes.”

Windsor-Norma 1Norma Wesson, branch manager Windsor
Left: A view of the Self-Help Windsor branch at the height of flooding.
Right: Norma Wesson braved the flood waters to assess the flood damage.

Norma gathered up her courage, pulled on a sturdy pair of waterproof boots and made her way into the office. Water had rushed through the building, knocking over all in its path and leaving a soaked carpet. With lots of support from the home office, clean up began right away. 

Cleaning Up and Repairing Homes

Central North Carolina remained relatively unscathed from Matthew, but some Durham volunteers have been willing to travel.  Tracy Cox on our Development team joined a crew of volunteers from Durham’s Habitat for Humanity. They went to Fayetteville, where they spent a grueling day of pulling out old flooring materials.

It was hard work, but Tracy found it gratifying. “Floods tend to affect people of limited means, and entire neighborhoods are affected,” she said. “If I can do a small thing like this to help somebody even in a small way, I want to be here.”

Tracy has data to back up her observations. Self-Help estimates, which are certainly conservative, show that many of the most vulnerable in our state were hit hard by the storm:

  • Population in immediate disaster area: about 1 million
  • Average income: $53,436
  • Living in poverty: 22%
  • Over 65 years old: 12%
  • Black or African-American: 35%
  • Hispanic: 8%

Durham Habitat for Humanity works on hurricane recovery in Fayetteville

Self-Help’s Tracy Cox, third from right, traveled to Fayetteville, NC to work with a dedicated group from Durham’s Habitat from Humanity. Among the 154 Habitat homes in the Fayetteville area, 95 were affected, and 66 are in desperate need.  Photo by Abby Goldberg.

Turning Black Friday into a Day of Service

The day after Thanksgiving is known as a big shopping day, but Self-Help team leader Laura Benedict and director of Health and Education Lending Steve Saltzman made it a day of service.  They joined a group called NECHAMA, a Jewish nonprofit that organizes people of all faiths to respond to disasters. Laura and Steve packed their lunches and headed to Lumberton for the day, where they stripped severely damaged houses to prepare them for reconstruction.

Laura said it was difficult to witness the scope of the damage in Lumberton and to see the losses first-hand. “A woman in the neighborhood approached us and begged us to work on her house next. Unfortunately, we know it may be a very long time before she can live in her home again.”

Laura Benedict volunteers in Lumberton

Steve Saltzman volunteering in Lumberton

Laura Benedict and Steve Saltzman, shown above, spent part of their Thanksgiving vacation volunteering in Lumberton, NC. Lumberton is located in rural Robeson County, which was one of the hardest hit areas in the state.

Fighting Wildfires with Persistence and Cooperation

Frank 'Buster' Rogers

Frank "Buster" Rogers on the front lines of the Pinnacle Mountain fire. Photo provided by his wife Diane.

While the eastern part of the state struggles to recover from flooding, the western part of the state is parched and burning. We’re grateful that our branches have been spared any direct harm from the multiple wildfires blazing in western NC, but the disaster is touching nearly everyone in that area.

At least two of our staff members have been experiencing both great pride and anxiety as their spouses fight the fires. Gina Summey and Diane Rogers, who both work in Self-Help's Penrose branch near Brevard, NC, have husbands who are volunteer fire fighters.

Gina's husband Davie, who works in the state fire marshal's office, had already been assigned to the eastern part of the state to assist with flood relief. He came back home just in time to help with the fire in the Lake Lure area.

"Between the flood work and the fire work, he was gone for 24 days," Gina said. "He has a real passion for his work. It's hard when he's away, but I know he's out helping someone who needs him more than we do right now."

Diane Rogers has also been anxious for weeks as her husband Frank--better known as "Buster"--worked to fight the Pinnacle Mountain fires, which straddle both of the Carolinas.  

Buster was kind enough to send us his comments on the magnitude and impact of the fires as of November 27, including these:

  • Since November 1, there have been over 3,000 fires, burning over 46,000 acres.
  • Extreme drought created conditions for wildfires. Fires will continue until the area receives significant amounts of rain or snow.
  • Many NC Forest Service personnel were working in the eastern part of the state on hurricane flood relief when fires started in the west.
  • Most of NC Forest Service personnel have worked for 30+ days with only one day off.

“I don’t have a count on the number of firemen fighting fires but the number is in the thousands,” Buster said. “I have been working with firefighters from Oregon, Oklahoma and Montana and all across North Carolina. Although this has been a very stressful time, there has been great cooperation between national, state and local resources. Support from the public with gifts and thanks has been unbelievable.”

Frank 'Buster' Rogers

Buster Rogers. Photo provided by his wife Diane.

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We would like to hear more of your stories! Members and staff, don’t be modest—let us know how you’re helping with disaster relief. You can email pictures and a brief description to with the subject line Disaster Response.

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