Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico.
With each passing week, we’re reminded of people in need in the wake of a disaster.
But a new local organization is aimed at helping the Akron area do something about it.
The interfaith community and local government leaders have joined together to create the Greater Akron Loves/Disaster Fund as a way for the community to help when the next disaster strikes.
The fund is designed to help victims of disasters in the U.S. and its territories.
The Rev. Mark Ford, the executive director of the Love Akron Network, a Christian ministry, said the idea grew from a committee that originally convened to raise money for victims in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
The committee is made up of faith leaders, like Ford; Robert Titus, the president and CEO of OPEN M ministry; and Kary Lewis, the leader of the Akron Area Interfaith Council. Local government leaders are also involved, including Billy Soule, the assistant to Mayor Dan Horrigan for community relations, and Drew Reilly, the executive assistant for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. The Rev. Carl Wallace was named the committee chairperson.
As conversations continued among the committee, members realized that more disasters will inevitably follow Harvey.
“In our conversation, we were saying there will be other things that come along,” Ford said. “As other projects come up or other cities need help, we would have this already in motion.”
The committee decided to expand its focus from one community in Texas to an ongoing effort in place for any natural disasters to come.
The committee is working on registering the group as a nonprofit and will serve as its board of directors.
A fund at KeyBank has been set up to accept donations.
“We have this wonderful, beautiful spirit in Akron. This is just another example of a good thing happening,” Wallace said. “I am so proud of our city for being able to reach out to demonstrate love.”
The nonprofit’s first undertaking is assisting the community of Port Arthur, Texas, an area that had a higher percentage of affected citizens than Houston, Soule said.
The organization’s goal is to raise $20,000 for Staff Sgt. Lucian Adams Elementary School, a school in Port Arthur that experienced flooding that displaced all of its 65 staff members and 650 students until next year.
Ford said the money will go to students to make sure they’re prepared for school next year, as well as teachers who need to replace classroom items.
The small target population allows both donors and victims to engage in two-way communication, Soule said.
“When you give to other funds, it’s great, but you don’t get to see where your funds actually make a difference,” Soule said. “With this, you’ll be able to see where dollars go.”
“In a disaster, people are grateful for what other people do for them, and in a lot of cases, victims say they really want to thank people,” Soule continued. “It’s gratifying to be able to say thank you, and in many ways, it’s incomplete to not have anybody to say it to.”
Friday was the organization’s first public fundraising effort as well as a chance for victims to share their thanks.
Greater Akron Loves/Disaster Fund held a charity concert featuring local acts, from kid choirs to local jazz guitarist Dan Wilson, at the Akron Civic Theatre, where more than 150 people came out to show their support.
Among those in attendance was Mark Porterie, the superintendent of Port Arthur Independent School District. An anonymous donor paid for the flight to Ohio for Porterie; the Rev. Donald Frank, the president of the school board; Cheryl Tripplett, the principal of the school; and Skylar Slaughter, a third-grade teacher at the school.
During the fundraiser, the four went onstage to describe the aftermath of the hurricane — the 64 inches of flooding, the buildings that had to be gutted, the 700 people who had to sleep in their community’s middle school gym for two weeks.
They also expressed their gratitude for the kindness of strangers.
“We try to teach our children that people do not have to be nice to you,” Porterie said. “But for the community of Akron to stop and assist us is just remarkable. It goes to show you there are good people everywhere.”
The concert was the first time the group was in the public eye, but it won’t be the last. Soule said the group plans on having more fundraisers for the school in the months to come.
Ford envisions going one step further and rounding up people to take down to Port Arthur for rebuilding efforts.
“We don’t know where it’s gonna lead,” Ford said. “We just know we wanted to do something now.”
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
New Akron-area organization forms to help disaster victims around the country
Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico.