Idaho Wildfires Spark Volunteer Help

December 30, 2015

When wildfires devastated the Clearwater River area this past summer, the Rev. Luann Howard realized all the training she’d had as a pastor, counselor, mentor and chaplain aimed her straight toward some of the greatest needs.

“I think I’m not any different from most people,” the 58-year-old Presbyterian pastor said. “When you see people that you live with in a community that you know – and in a community like ours everybody knows everybody – so when your neighbor is facing such an overwhelming disaster that’s happened in their lives, how can you not try to do something to alleviate their pain?”

Shortly after the smoke cleared, Howard became part of the wildfire unmet needs committee for Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties. The group focuses its efforts mainly on people who lost their homes, who were under-insured or had no insurance.

FEMA News Photo
FEMA News Photo

Howard said there were about 73 families who completely lost their homes in the wildfires that swept through the area in mid-August. Some of those were living in campers or temporary homes, but they lost all their belongings.

The committee is in the process of assessing the needs and trying to find volunteer help, materials and funding to help replace what people lost.

Although the group is making some progress, “things never work as quickly as you would like for them to,” Howard said. “Right now we’re just trying to make sure those who lost homes have a temporary place to be that will get them through the winter” and then reassess the situation in the spring.

But not all of the needs from the wildfires have to do with material losses. Howard said she has also been helping to provide training and education for other faith community leaders and teachers who will be working with the victims of the fires.

“I think the years that I spent as a hospice chaplain, helping people deal with loss, I knew that I had some experience and education background in understanding how these people were going to be processing all that happened to them,” she said.

Already she has seen children and adults showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the fires.

As the crisis team coordinator, Howard has been trying to put together educational opportunities for professionals to equip them to help people they serve.

Howard’s work doesn’t rest with the wildfire recovery. As head of the Kamiah Community Presbyterian Church, she oversees a church-sponsored food bank and child-care services.

Once a week, a group of about 30 preschool to fourth-graders gather at the church for a healthy after-school snack, crafts, games and to learn to sing.

The Children of God Singers have performed several times in the community, including during the Christmas season.

When she’s not busy with those activities, Howard serves as a co-leader for the Kamiah Woodland 4-H club. That role comes naturally. After having been raised in a 4-H family in Buhl, Idaho, Howard has continued the family tradition for the past 25 years.

Staying involved in the community, Howard said, is one of the ways she lives out her vocation as a Christian pastor.

“I’ve always been passionate about doing things that help kids to see the potential that they have and I want to be involved in things that help create wonderful memories.

“Sometimes you don’t really know the impact that things have upon a person until on down the road. But I know that for some of the kids who live right around the area here it has made a difference.”

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