The organization, a ministry of the Bradley Baptist Association, has also been involved in helping those affected by the April 27, 2011, storms, all while continuing to help others in the community.
Ocoee Outreach Director Randy Bonner said it was only natural to help those in need, no matter what caused that need.
“Our vision is to bring new hope through the love of God,” Bonner said. “The primary tool that we use is home repair.”
Bonner has been with Ocoee Outreach for the past 11 years, estimating that close to 1,000 homes have been repaired in those years.
“I know this past summer, we did 129 different projects,” he noted.
The families that receive help fill out applications, and then Ocoee Outreach selects homes to be included in that year’s projects.
Volunteers working with Ocoee Outreach come from churches all over the country. In 2011, these volunteers came from churches located in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, and other parts of Tennessee. Bonner said the group that traveled the most distance to help was from Texas.
“And, of course, we have our churches here in Cleveland and Bradley County who help with volunteers, meals and/or supplies,” he added.
Last summer, just fewer than 1,400 volunteers helped with Ocoee Outreach projects. A portion of those volunteers helped with disaster relief (266), but the large majority were working on projects already scheduled for the summer by the organization.
“The need for this help has always been here in Cleveland,” Bonner said. “But, yes, this was a different year for us … because we are a part of the Bradley Baptist Association, which is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, we already had trained disaster volunteers that could help with that type of relief.”
In fact, Jim Polier, who currently leads the Bradley County Long Term Recovery Organization, was the “white cap” for the first four or five weeks following the April 27 tornadoes.
“White cap is designation given to one of our certified disaster relief volunteers who has gone through specific training which makes him the lead person in the command center, so we were the mobilization center for all work orders and volunteers who came to Cleveland … over 4,000 volunteers,” Bonner said.
“So because of our readiness, we were ready to jump right in there and work with Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland and link arms with Men and Women of Action with the Church of God,” he added. “Jim was the lead person in that role of coordinating these efforts prior to him becoming the director of the Long Term Recovery Organization.”
Bonner said much of the work during the summer was shifted due to helping with the tornado relief. Yet, Ocoee Outreach was able to complete their projects, including 16 of which were funded through a United Way grant. This grant was made possible through the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund, and has been renewed for 2012.
“The grant will help us take on 16 projects for a targeted segment of our community … those that have someone in the household who has a type of medical disability that could be even much more complicated because of their living conditions,” Bonner explained.
“It could be anything from a new roof, to ceilings, floors, drywall, to removing bad breathing or living threats, or even a wheelchair ramp or weatherizing the house.”
The Ocoee Outreach director said it is so rewarding to know you are helping a family that is in need, and the families are also so thankful.
“They are all so grateful. We have some who have just broken down in tears, some who are just speechless, and some throughout the course of the week (on a project) just warm up to, where it at first may have appeared to be a distant relationship, they hate to see that group (of volunteers) go home,” Bonner said.
“It gives our volunteers a sense of accomplishment, but we also know that we are giving them a sense of hope, but we know there are more needs that people have than just home repair, and that is where we try to demonstrate the love of Christ with others, and the hope that He has for each of us,” he added.
United Way of Bradley County is extremely pleased to be working with Ocoee Outreach in helping these families.
“We are thrilled with our partnership,” said Patrick Long, vice president for Community Impact at United Way of Bradley County.
“Ocoee Outreach has been a vital part of the on-going storm recovery effort, and, in addition, they provide essential support to families who are living with a disability.
“Oftentimes changing someone’s physical surroundings is the catalyst that facilitates further lifestyle changes,” he added. “By improving homes they change people’s quality of life and make a lasting impact on the families they work with.”
Bonner said Ocoee Outreach is currently going through applications for this summer’s projects, and applications will be accepted through April.
To find out more about Ocoee Outreach, call Bonner at (423) 476-5493 or check out the organization’s website at www.ocoeeoutreach.org.