“The face of your foundation changed in the eyes of many people as we stepped up to the plate and used our money, our influence and our leadership skills,” WACF president Paul Kennedy said during the group’s annual luncheon on Wednesday.
All of WACF’s various resources were required to tackle its first initiative of 2011, rebuilding hope after the disaster of April 27.
Approximately 156 homes throughout the county were completely destroyed in the storms and 170 received major damage.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency later determined that the amount of unmet needs in Walker County was more than $4 million.
Local nonprofit leaders and other volunteers quickly organized the Walker County Long Term Recovery Committee to coordinate and lead the disaster relief effort.
The foundation provided funds to hire case managers to assist storm survivors with their unmet needs months before federal grant funds were released for the same purpose.
Lona Courington, executive director of the Salvation Army of Walker County, said that case managers have successfully brought more than 190 cases to LTRC’s table.
According to WACF’s annual report, 52 cases were approved for construction in 2011.
Courington also noted that LTRC has had the benefit of several faith-based teams in rebuilding the areas devastated by last spring’s storms. Those volunteer hours have saved the area nearly $2 million.
“They agreed to come because of our foundation and you, the donors, because we were ready to fund the projects,” Courington said.
Courington ended her presentation with an update on storm survivor Lemuel McElrath, whose Cordova home was dedicated in January.
McElrath, whose leg was amputated several years ago, couldn’t keep up with the buckets and pans that filled rapidly with rainwater after his roof was severely damaged on April 27. He later told his case manager that he expected to live in that situation until the roof fell in on him.
Today, McElrath not only has a new roof but a new outlook on life and a new prosthetic leg as well,.
“Recovery would have happened in some form after the disaster without the foundation, but I believe our recovery is ahead of schedule and has restored so many things to survivors and our community as a whole because of our community foundation,” Courington said.
The second initiative spearheaded by WACF last year was the Bankhead House and Heritage Center.
The historic house was built in the 1920s by William B. Bankhead, who became Speaker of the House in 1936.
It was opened to the public last year after an extensive renovation and hosted five exhibits in 2011 as well as a 109th birthday party for Bankhead’s actress daughter, Tallulah.
The Bankhead House and Heritage Center drew several thousand visitors to Jasper last year.
“It has become the epicenter of the cultural, historic and artistic life of the community,” local attorney Pat Nelson said.
WACF also supported several programs attempting to create healthy habits among local residents.
Examples include the Walker Area Transformational Coalition for Health and Shape Up, Walker County.
Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said although statistics regarding the nation’s health crisis are important, attention should also be given to the groups seeking solutions.
“We didn’t get there overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight, but the solutions to problems such as these are found in organizations like the Walker Area Community Foundation,” said Landers, who also called WACF’s work on health matters “unique and unprecedented.”
The final initiative highlighted during Wednesday’s luncheon was teaching philanthropy.
The Walker Area Youth Council exists to teach high school students about the importance of giving by involving them in the grant approval process.
Last year, WACF staff also started Project Community for young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35.
Each participant is required to give at least $150 a year to the foundation’s Community Fund. Last year, the group funded a holiday project for storm survivors, a tree planting for Cordova and music instruction for second graders throughout the county.
“I have learned that there are a lot of younger people who loves this community as much as I do. Project Community is giving young people like me an identity and also a mechanism to give back to the community who has given us so much,” Jud Allen said.