In May, Upbring was chosen in partnership with Lutheran Services in America (LSA) to help improve community resiliency in low-income and vulnerable communities as part of the Resilience AmeriCorps program. Administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Resilience AmeriCorps initiative aims to help communities plan and implement efforts necessary to become more resilient to extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change.
“We’re excited about bringing this program to Austin, where severe flooding has irreparably harmed vulnerable communities in the just the past few years,” said Jessica Vermilyea, Director of Upbring Disaster Response. “And, while weather events will be a point of focus, we’ll also be preparing communities to be resilient in the face of fire and other natural or human-caused disaster.”
This project will help Upbring and other providers assess and develop strategies to improve resiliency programs in low-income and vulnerable communities by engaging local nonprofit and government agencies and providing disaster preparedness and recovery training over the course of three years.
Beginning in July, a volunteer from AmeriCorps VISTA will work on-site at Upbring and out in the field to engage volunteers in community readiness, establish partnerships, work with community programs to coordinate services targeted to community resiliency and increase access to social services.
“Extreme weather, or any disaster, often has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities,” said Vermilyea. “For example, the Austin neighborhoods near Onion Creek were irreparably harmed by the Halloween floods of both 2013 and 2015.”
In addition to seven tragic deaths across Travis County, these so-called Halloween storms resulted in upwards of $10 million damage to property and infrastructure, affecting more than 1,200 homes and other structures. For the lower Onion Creek area, the city initiated a buyout program for 855 homes that will cost upwards of $170 million.
Aside from the property loss and financial impact, residents of areas like Onion Creek are faced with losing their sense of community. Families will lose their homes of 30 years or more, and even with a fair market buyout may not be able to afford a new home in Austin. Thus, a vibrant part of the local community will be no more.
“The Resilience AmeriCorps initiative seeks to help prepare these communities to not only weather the storm, but to effectively bounce back and rebuild,” said Vermilyea. “It’s an opportunity to not only mitigate the financial impact, but to keep at-risk communities rooted where they are.”
In addition to outreach and connecting individuals to social services, trainings and toolkits will be developed for existing programs to help vulnerable and at-risk populations be better prepared for small disruptions, as well as large disasters impacting entire communities.