Lutheran Family Services adapts to crisis

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas has learned to stretch.

The Raleigh-based group, which serves over 10,000 people in the Carolinas, teamed up with other human-services agencies in both states to help connect Katrina evacuees with local services.

Lutheran Family Services added 15 temporary employees to its staff of over 300 people, says John Burns, the agency’s Charlotte-based senior vice president and chief program officer.

Staff of its refugee-resettlement program also shared their expertise with its partner agencies and with employees of its other programs.

“In a real positive way, what it’s required is that we stretch ourselves beyond traditional program boundaries,” Burns says.

And because many donors were focusing on contributing to Katrina relief efforts, Lutheran Family Services cancelled a direct-mail appeal that had been scheduled for the fall, and added some events to spur larger gifts from individual donors, says Nancy Arne Jones, senior vice president for institutional advancement.

“Lutheran Family Services wasn’t positioned to do disaster fundraising in the way the Red Cross or Salvation Army or other disaster organizations were,” she says.

With an annual budget of $20 million, Lutheran Family Services provides adoption, counseling and foster-care services; inmate and family consultation and support; group homes for children and adults; and refugee and immigration services.

While precise numbers are not available, Katrina generated an estimated 8,000 evacuees in South Carolina and roughly the same number in North Carolina, Burns says.

The agency has been part of collaborative efforts in both states to address the needs of those evacuees.

In Charlotte, for example, Lutheran Family Services was part of Project TASK, a collaborate effort to connect the area’s more than 3,000 Katrina evacuees to local services.

There, and in Greensboro and Raleigh, and in Columbia, S.C., the agency is applying its refugee-resettlement model to the needs of evacuees.

So in addition to working with partner agencies in those communities to form teams to help meet evacuees’ needs ranging from doctors’ appointments to transportation, for example, Lutheran Family Services also has helped the partner agencies and their staff and volunteers understand the emotional needs of evacuees.

“All social-service organizations have to look at what their skill sets are, what do we do well, and put together a response that’s outside the boundaries of a traditional program,” Burns says.

Jones says the agency also has had to adapt in its fundraising.

In the fiscal year that ends next June 30, for example, its goal is to raise $835,000 from individual donors.

But because of Katrina, the agency was $30,000 short of funds it had hoped to raise by the end of the year.

After canceling its direct-mail appeal in the fall to keep from competing with Katrina appeals, Lutheran Family Services held several events for donors after Thanksgiving.

It also distributed its annual appeal for year-end gifts, which typically account for much of the unrestricted giving to the agency.

And to respond to new needs stemming from Katrina, Lutheran Family Services raised $10,000 from individuals and hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.

That included over $400,000 from Church World Service and Lutheran Disaster Response to continue providing services for evacuees in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Columbia.

“Whenever there’s a crisis,” says Burns, “people have to stretch.”

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