Damaged basement keeps Jamestown woman from taking in foster childrenSingle and with no family in the Jamestown area, one foster-care mother waited until the last day to apply for local aid. This spring, water engulfed the basement of Jamestown resident Brenda Fischer’s home, damaging walls, floors and a bedroom she keeps for the various foster children she’s cared for since 2001.
By: Katie Ryan, The Jamestown Sun
Single and with no family in the Jamestown area, one foster-care mother waited until the last day to apply for local aid.
This spring, water engulfed the basement of Jamestown resident Brenda Fischer’s home, damaging walls, floors and a bedroom she keeps for the various foster children she’s cared for since 2001.
She applied for government assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave her $472, but it wasn’t enough for all the repairs to her one-story home located near Klaus Park.
Stressed, overwhelmed and still fighting water issues like blocked roads and temporary levees; Fischer wanted to give up. She didn’t have the money or the skills to do the repairs herself, but somehow she’d make it work, she thought to herself.
“I was doing it as I could afford it,” she said.
When Fischer heard of the Stutsman County Unmet Needs Committee, however, she decided to try again.
“I need help, plain and simple, there just was no other way,” Fischer remembers thinking.
The Stutsman County Unmet Needs Committee consists of about a dozen church and community leaders. Using a confidential ranking system, those leaders allocate donations to residents in need of assistance with flood repairs.
The money goes to residents with damage to essential living spaces like a kitchen or child’s bedroom. A deck or spare bedroom wouldn’t qualify.
The committee originated this year and will likely dissolve once the money is distributed. But should another disaster occur, the group will form again, said Beth Dewald, executive director of the Buffalo Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross and member of the Stutsman County Unmet Needs Committee.
FEMA won’t assist in every disaster, Dewald said, so it’s important to keep an agency like the Unmet Needs Committee in the community.
“What we’ve done is not just for one event,” Dewald said.
The Unmet Needs Committee also refers its applicants to RAFT, an organization that advocates for disaster victims as well as provides emotional and spiritual guidance.
Fischer, a librarian at Jamestown College, is one of 18 households in the county that qualified for the committee’s help.
The committee doled out about $26,000 in assistance, but Dewald said it needs $15,000 more to meet the needs of all who had qualifying damage. As of Wednesday, the committee was still accepting donations.
“Our door’s not shut,” she said.
Throughout the spring flood, volunteers helped Fischer plug drains, move furniture and carry the books, bookshelves and appliances she owns. Three Jimmie baseball players dedicated an afternoon to tearing out Sheetrock and paneling. But even with the help, floodwaters still caused thousands of dollars in damage.
Fischer appealed FEMA’s $472 but was originally denied because of missed deadlines.
On Monday — nearly 8 months after the flood event — she learned she’ll qualify for more, although she’s not sure how much.
That money is in addition to the funds she received from the Unmet Needs Committee to help with recovery.
The committee tries to cut costs by finding volunteers to do some of the work. The quest, however, isn’t an easy one. Because the flood was a state-wide event and because disasters have occurred throughout the county, finding help isn’t easy, said Debra Ball-Kilbourne, RAFT coordinator and bishop’s assistant for disaster response for the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“Volunteers are just really hard to find for any of our communities in North Dakota,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
And like Fischer, many households still need help, Dewald said.
Volunteers need not be skilled, Ball-Kilbourne said, just able to learn and do the work.
“That’s the interesting thing about disasters — when people who are helpers become the needy,” said the Rev. Harlan Kaden, Stutsman County Unmet Needs Committee chair and pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Kaden said helping residents like Fischer helps the whole city because as a foster parent, Fisher is an aid to the community.
Since March, Fischer hasn’t been able to accept foster children to her home — something she’s missed since the flood event began. The foster child living with her when the waters rose was placed in another home. Fischer can’t foster any children until her basement is repaired.
“I feel like there’s something missing that I don’t have a foster child right now,” she said.
Repairs at her home have been halted due to weather, but Fischer said she expects them to begin again once the weather warms.
To make a donation to the Stutsman County Recovery Unmet Needs Committee, mail it to Jamestown Community Foundation, P.O. Box 372, Jamestown, ND 58402. When sending the donation, indicate “disaster unmet needs” in the check’s memo section.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org