GNJ Ida Recovery Team: The Rev. Cricket Denton, Andrea Wren-Hardin, Erica Martinezsantos, Virginia Franco, Andy Chan, Bianca Shumanov, Raul Nombera-Bueno and Jean Tam. Corbin Payne photo

GNJ Ida Recovery Team Expands Its Efforts to Find and Offer Help

May 16, 2023 | | GNJ News, A Future With Hope

The Greater New Jersey Conference Hurricane Ida Recovery Team is expanding its work, known as A Future with Hope, beyond the three counties where it has been working to help more survivors of extensive flood damage restore their homes and access needed services through case management.

Staff are participating in community outreach events to seek input and learn about needs among impacted households and to recruit more volunteers to do the work. Collaboration with other disaster recovery agency partners plus two new videos produced by EPA&GNJ Communications are helping to get the word out.

Raul Nombera-Bueno (left) with Crickett Denton (Image from video)

As GNJ’s Volunteers in Mission coordinator for about the past six months, Cricket Denton is learning the ropes of that new responsibility. She has spent much time trying to recruit volunteers, both new and seasoned ones. While numbers have tapered off a year-and-ahalf after Ida’s destructive storms hit, “I do have people lined up who are interested,” she said. “I’ve got some ready to go, who are texting me to ask so what are we doing? They’re excited to help out wherever they can.”

About 30 people attended Early Response Team training before the Covid pandemic, but that was long ago, said Denton. There should be two each year. “But I think this disaster has forced us really to get on top of things. It may be preparing us for the next big thing that may impact our state. We’re hopeful that whatever the next natural disaster is, we’ll be able to hit the ground running instead of starting 10 steps behind.”

GNJ Disaster Recovery Coordinator Andrea Wren-Hardin’s team works closely with New Jersey Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NJVOAD). “They’ve been a very strong partner.” She is a member of that essential group, and GNJ’s case managers participate in their meetings to learn about available resources they can share. Another partner for community outreach events is the Latino Advisory Council.

In New Jersey we have 12 major disaster-declared counties,” she said. “So, when we wrote to our primary funder for our program, we indicated that we were in three counties, Somerset, Middlesex and Union. But we’ve received referrals from outside of those counties, and our managers have done an incredible job of screening homeowners’ database information there, too.”

Case managers are much appreciated by the homeowners they help, said Andy Chan. “When we come to visit them for screening, to help them not as a government agency but as the church, they do appreciate it, and some seem to trust us more.”

GNJ received a generous $1.8 million grant from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) in May 2022 for its response to Ida efforts, and then it had to hire and train staff before beginning. The grant period ends in May 2024. GNJ hired a required grant monitor in January to research and verify how grant funds are managed and spent. “

A Future With Hope has a dynamic team of disaster case managers who are fielding a high volume of calls from households seeking help with their recovery.” Wren-Hardin explained. “We have expanded our reach into other impacted counties and have opened cases that are being vetted for home repairs. We have not yet found a construction coordinator to work with volunteers, so we are hiring contractors to do that work. We are grateful to be of service to those forgotten and offer hope as we walk with them through their recovery.”

Anyone interested in attending or hosting outreach events at local churches should sign up for available dates and times. For more information, visit the project’s web page or contact Disaster Recovery Coordinator Andrea WrenHardin at or
732-598-8872. View the two A Future with Hope videos promoting their ongoing recovery efforts and the need for more volunteers.

MAIN PHOTO: GNJ Ida Recovery Team: The Rev. Cricket Denton, Andrea Wren-Hardin, Erica Martinezsantos, Virginia Franco, Andy Chan, Bianca Shumanov, Raul Nombera-Bueno and Jean Tam.  Corbin Payne photo