When Max Fisher learned that volunteers from Team Rubicon needed a place to house volunteers serving the flooding in New Jersey last June, he knew just what to do. Fisher is the Capital District Emergency Response Coordinator and a member of First UMC in Moorestown.
“They needed a place to stay, a home base,” said Fisher. “So, my pastor immediately asked me to contact Team Rubicon to say we could help.”
Team Rubicon was started by eight veterans led by two Marines in response to the January 12, 2010, powerful earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince, Haiti, destroying homes, schools and countless lives. Without hesitation they rushed to help those who were suffering in the small Caribbean nation. Since that time, Team Rubicon has become an unstoppable network that now has about 100,000 members who provide disaster relief all over the world, often in places that are overlooked or underserved by traditional aid organizations.
Nine years later, in June 2019, Team Rubicon came to the aid in New Jersey when heavy rains caused flooding and a state of emergency declaration from Governor Phil Murphy in three counties. The Mid-Atlantic branch of Team Rubicon called on Burlington County Community Organizations Active in Disaster (BUCOAD) to help. It was there they met Fischer who serves on BUCOAD.
“We talked on June 27, and by the next day we had cots in the fellowship hall and had them moving in,” said Fisher who added that the first step was to put together a multi-agency resource center (MARC) to discuss strategy. From there they were able to get a team of about 50 people together that included several members of the church in Burlington County.
Fisher, a former Moorestown fire chief and now fire commissioner for the past 18 years, added that he immediately connected the Team Rubicon team with the local fire house and all its facilities.
The regional Team Rubicon spent the next 10 days in Moorestown helping more than 50 residents recover from the storms by mucking out homes and removing debris including wet drywall.
“The church did a fantastic job. In fact, it was one of the best operations I have been involved with,” said Thomas Scheuerman, who led this operation and for the past two years has been Team Rubicon’s city coordinator for Philadelphia.
Scheuerman, who served in the Pennsylvania National Guard for six years, added that the church members even arranged for he and his team to march in the town’s July 4 parade. He also said that following the operation, the church hosted a community dinner, and there were many who signed up to be new Team Rubicon members.
Church member Susan Rapp, who is also an UMCOR ERT, rolled up her sleeves and offered her help. She said that she has done many operations throughout the country, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in January 2006, but this one gave her the opportunity to help locally.
“It was a leap of faith then, and sometimes it still is. I count on the Lord to guide me,” said Rapp who added that she always keeps one week per year open to serve on disaster relief teams.
Rapp recalled helping a younger mom who didn’t have any resources living with her child in an old home. “Not sure what would have happened to her had Team Rubicon not been there to help.
Team Rubicon members are able to provide aid to many by applying medical and leadership skills honed by years of service in the military. Team Rubicon serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises.
“Through continued service, Team Rubicon seeks to provide veterans with three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and identity, from recognizing the impact one individual can make. Coupled with leadership development and other opportunities, Team Rubicon looks to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.”
When asked what the best part of the operation was, Fisher said, “It’s always about the people. It feels good helping people get back their lives.” He added that among other things involving both adults and children from First United’s congregation, they are planning to participate in a mission trip next July in Vermont with Habitat for Humanity.
Serving others is a foundation of the United Methodist faith. While First United was working alongside Team Rubicon, other United Methodists were also coming to the aid of those impacted by the disaster in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties, including Good Shepherd UMC in Northfield, who is host of GNJ’s Southern Region UMCOR kit hub. A team from the church in Atlantic County brought 100 cleaning kit buckets to the Burlington County Office of Emergency Management.