Government leaders comprising the Mayor’s Coalition made the decision Tuesday in partnership with representatives from nonprofit and volunteer organizations. The action was taken in a called session at Lee University’s Leonard Center that included Cleveland and Bradley County Mayors Tom Rowland and D. Gary Davis.
Joining both mayors in the strategic session were Matt Ryerson, representing United Way of Bradley County; Matt Carlson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland; and Dr. William Lamb, representing the Leonard Center; among others.
The oversight committee is expected to meet within the next two weeks.
Long-term recovery elements were discussed Tuesday and this included the transition of the East Tennessee Disaster Relief Rally fund, which is being adopted as the official site for donations. The ETDRR was established by Steve Watson, and co-founded by Suzanne Wisdom and others.
The fund’s purpose was to begin raising money, collecting supplies and filling needs in an organized manner. United Way aided organizers in developing the fund. It will now be recognized as “Bradley-Cleveland Disaster Relief Fund,” but the ETDRR will continue to hold fundraising events and collect much-needed equipment and supplies to aid during the long-term recovery. Watson suggested the fund become perpetual, meaning that money and resources would be in place in case of future catastrophic events which may occur in the city and or county.
“Everybody will feel ownership of this,” Watson said.
The Mayor’s Coalition blessed the change from ETDRR to the Bradley-Cleveland Disaster Relief Fund.
A website, complete with a PayPal account for incoming donations, will be up and running soon, Wisdom confirmed. For now, donors may contact Wisdom at 423-716-1844. The domain name for the site is www.bradleydisasterrelief.org and emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be sent to United Way referencing the fund. Mailing address is P.O. Box 193, Cleveland, 37364.
“We will continue through ETDRR to organize fundraisers and ask for donations of supplies of all kinds for the community and the rebuild effort,” Wisdom said.
The focus of Tuesday’s gathering was to look ahead to future long-term recovery from the multiple tornadoes whose estimated damage now stands at about $50 million, but this figure is expected to rise.
At the meeting’s outset, Lamb asked government, agency and volunteer leaders, “Where do we go from here?” As the transitions take place, he added, “Who will be in charge?”
Organization has been crucial in every aspect of the efforts by so many. Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency repostured relief efforts to the Salvation Army, Bradley Baptist Association, Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross and others.
Rowland said splinter groups of workers will still be evident.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away who wants to help,” Rowland said. “Churches, civic or other groups will just be asked to work within the more streamlined effort.”
Immediately after the storms which downed trees and utility poles, caused widespread power outages and damaged or destroyed more than 500 homes in the city and county, smaller groups began filtering into the area to render emergency assistance.
“They had good intentions and maybe some went in the wrong direction, but that’s why we need to remain and to better organize,” Rowland offered.
“We were blessed to have this problem with volunteers,” said Ryerson. “But, we need to become more united. Splinter groups are just not as effective.”
Carlson said he has been researching recovery efforts of those affected during hurricanes and other events.
The local effort has moved much quicker than some of those in past events in other areas of the country, Carlson noted.
Tuesday’s strategic discussions are aimed at the future. At this point, all efforts continue to fall under the Emergency Declaration and the Bradley-Cleveland Emergency Management Agency.
The ad hoc committee’s first potential meeting date is May 23. A location has not been set.
Later, a public information meeting will be held once the ad hoc group is in place.