Community Action’s Disaster Recovery Program cleans up refuse and builds resumes

HAPCAP Crew members clean up debris left by the February 2018 flooding in Glouster.

Ice, mud, and dead leaves are beginning to form a slick surface behind the ball fields in Glouster. In the midst of the dreary brown and white winter landscape, crew members in bright green safety vests remove debris and build-up from a February flood that ravaged the area.

This right here is the perfect example of what we’re trying to do,” says Athens field supervisor Ted Linscott. He points to a large pile of logs, brush, and trash gathered at the base of two trees. Crew members are working to remove the debris carried by the flood, discard the trash, and even salvage firewood for local residents.

In February of 2018, Athens and Perry Counties sustained heavy damage from severe storms, flooding and landslides. Roadways were blocked with fallen trees and debris was left clogging streams and rivers, creating the potential for additional flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency surveyed the damage and approved the affected counties for assistance.

February’s floods begin to recede at the baseball fields in Glouster (Photo credit to Jordan Kelley/WOUB Public Media, 2/25/2018)

As a result, Hocking Athens Perry Community Action’s Disaster Recovery Program started in the summer of 2018. Laura Schaeffer, Employment Services Coordinator for HAPCAP, continues to work with public officials in Athens & Perry Counties to identify areas affected by the flooding. Thanks to a grant from the Department of Labor, HAPCAP has staffed a crew for Athens County and a crew for Perry County, each with laborers, crew leaders, a field supervisor, and a clerk.

This program is in partnership with Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Area 14 and Athens and Perry County Job and Family Services. So far, work has been done in Glouster along the stream, as well as in Corning. Several other sites will begin soon, including one in New Lexington.

Logs are removed from the riparian zone by pulling them up the hill.

We are looking to get people back into the work force and to do necessary cleanup as a result of the flooding, all while minimizing environmental impact along streams,” says Schaeffer.

There are strong environmental guidelines the crews must follow while conducting clean-up in the “riparian zone,” or the areas bordering the rivers and streams. The crews have undergone Environmental Best Practices Training with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to make sure these guidelines are followed. This includes the removal of logs only if they are impeding the flow of the water, and trash and debris from within streams, underneath bridges & culverts. For example, guidelines from the Fish and Wildlife Service advise that “large woody debris is an important component of stream habitat and forms the base of the food chain in many streams. If woody debris is not contributing to log jams, consider leaving it in the stream.” In addition, no live or dead trees are to be cut down and all work must be done on public land.

Another mission of this program is workforce development. All crew members are employees of HAPCAP and are eligible for hire under the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, which increases the opportunities for individuals with barriers to employment. Crew members are local residents of Athens and Perry Counties. They are working to clean up their own communities and are even utilizing spaces in former schools in Albany and New Lexington for administrative work.

Kay Johnson works as the clerk for the Athens County Flood Program, which is housed in the old Albany Consolidated School.

The impact on participants has been fantastic,” says Schaeffer. “They’re continuing to build their skills and their resumes as they go through the program. It also reinforces our mission as an agency to build self-sufficiency. To help people help themselves and each other.

So far, HAPCAP has employed 26 people through the Disaster Recovery Program, and are looking to hire more crew members.

“I look at it this way,” says a crew member cleaning up the basketball courts in Glouster. “I’m getting paid to be active and work outside. It’s great!”

If you are interested in working for HAPCAP’s Disaster Recovery Program, please visit hapcap.org/jobs to fill out an application. Applications can be emailed to Laura Schaeffer at laura.schaeffer@hapcap.org and questions can also be directed to her by calling 740–767–4500.