After the storm: An army of volunteers

“Crossing the Rubicon” has become the go-to metaphor for committing to a daunting task and completing it. It started with Julius Caesar’s army facing battle across the tiny Rubicon River, in ancient Roman days. Once they crossed the Rubicon, they knew they could never go back.

So it is with Team Rubicon, a national volunteer organization of U.S. military veteransMARC Volunteer 2 that deploys at a moment’s notice to provide immediate aid to victims of a natural disaster.

This week, following the intense storm that hit spots of Salt Lake City on July 26th, Team Rubicon representatives and several other disaster relief volunteer non-profits have been providing advice and assistance from the lunchroom at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, the site of a temporary resource center for victims of that violent weather.

The Multi-agency Resource Center (MARC) was opened by Salt Lake City on August 2, and will be operating through Friday, August 4th from noon to 8 p.m. Anyone – homeowner, renter, business owner – who experienced storm-related property damage is encouraged to visit the MARC at 1234 South Main Street. There, several agencies, including Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, State emergency management experts and non-profits are working together to assist and reassure storm victims who need resources.

The national umbrella organization Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) has brought together several disaster relief agencies at the MARK. The American Red Cross, Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Utah-Idaho, Habitat for Humanity, and Team Rubicon have either fanned out across neighborhoods affected most dramatically by the storm, or are working at the MARC to offer aid to anyone who comes through the doors.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski, visited the MARC shortly after it opened on Wednesday. “It’s incredible to see so many professionals and committed volunteers working together to help others. This is a very challenging time for those who were affected by this storm. They need hope and support, and our City is committed to providing it.”

About 70 percent of Team Rubicon’s volunteer ranks consist of military veterans, said Dominique Lichte, a professional human resources administrator who volunteers her time with the non-profit. Dominique was joined all day on Thursday by Sgt. Joy Jones, retired from the Army with 20 years’ service, who now teaches elementary school in West Valley City.

“Team Rubicon depends on veterans for many of the skills they learned in the military to assist victims of natural disaster,” Dominique said. “A lot of times it’s a set of leadership skills, to help get the initial work done right after a disaster, like mucking out basements, removing fallen trees, and broken exteriors. Many of the veterans have knowledge of important trades in these situations, and they can be put right to use.”

Marina Torres, Communications Manager for Team Rubicon in Utah, says the organization allows vets a chance to help others within a setting that also operates with structure highly like the military.

“Immediately after a disaster there are people in place, with orders and expectations and they definitely come to work ready to succeed,” Marina said.

The first full day of business at the MARC ended with 28 people served —everything from volunteer help in cleaning out a basement to information on the City’s low-interest home rehab loans through Housing & Neighborhood Development.

“We’re very pleased to see people turning out for help during the recovery stage of this operation,” said Laura Briefer, Director of the Department of Public Utilities. “Our team is committed to learning all we can about what people need and to provide all the assistance we can.”

People who experienced storm damage are still encouraged to complete assessment forms, or to call for further guidance from Public Utilities. All data – even from those who have contacted private insurance carriers, or have done the work themselves – are encouraged to visit the City’s temporary storm relief website or to call 801-483-6700 (press option 1) for reporting damage. The information will be supplied to state emergency officials, who will turn it over in building a case for possible disaster relief from the federal government.

Other volunteers in place at the MARC, such as those working for the Red Cross, were on the scene of localized flooding and damage within a couple of hours after the July 26th storm. People with several feet of water in basements, for instance, were given emergency lodging and other resources for the immediate aftermath of the event.

The Southern Baptist Convention has a smaller reach in Utah and Idaho than in the southern states of the U.S. where the faith is predominant, but that doesn’t mean its relief efforts are any less significant.

Russel Holman is the Director of the Utah-Idaho operation. Retired from Boeing Corporation, he spends much of his time with his wife, directing people toward resources such as housing, food, repairs and other needs.

“There is the physical work, like cleaning up water, removing debris, and spraying for mold,” Russel said. “But people are really grateful for someone who will just listen and offer whatever help they can.”

Commitment. Collaboration. Focus on getting a job done well.

“Every time we go out, we cross the Rubicon,” said Team Rubicon’s Dominique Lichte. ”You commit to disaster assistance 100 percent. You know it will be hard work and a big trial, but once you commit to it, it’s just straight on across the river.”

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