Headwaters Relief Organization was recognized in an article in Forbes Magazine, on January 12, 2009. The article described the organization’s founding, by Dr. Rebecca Thomley, with the River of Hope project, as a response to the devastation to New Orleans and the surrounding are
as caused by Hurricane Katrina. The article goes on to describe Headwaters’ development from being a response to this disaster to becoming an organization that responds to disasters and to need wherever it may occur. The article cites Headwaters’ response to disasters in Iowa, Minnesota, and in response to the I-35W bridge collapse.
A pdf of the article and the text of the article are included below:
Minneapolis Grassroots Organization Brings River of Hope to Those in Need: Headwaters River of Hope Expands Mission
January 12, 2009
The Gulf waters were just beginning to recede when the Red Cross entered New Orleans’s Upper Ninth Ward in early September 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. A Red Cross Mental Health Stress Team volunteer since 1992, Minnesota psychologist Dr. Rebecca Thomley thought she was prepared for what she would see there, but the lack of support systems on the ground surprised her. Worse, it wasn’t clear when or if the support would arrive. Returning to the Greater Minneapolis area, where she is CEO of a family of human service companies, Thomley resolved to go back to New Orleans. But she would never have guessed this would eventually lead to the development of new non-profit organization that would continue to impact New Orleans as well as communities much closer to home: the flood-damaged areas of Rushford, Minnesota, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the city of Minneapolis after the I-35W bridge collapse.
In November 2005, Thomley established the River of Hope. She coordinated 12 trips to New Orleans during the organization’s first three years. These 12 “River of Hope” projects were manned by 460 volunteers from nine states and Germany, including many employees of Thomley’s for-profit companies. Most have since taken part in multiple trips.
“These projects are 100 percent grassroots efforts by the volunteers. Each person covers the cost of his or her transportation, housing and meals. I’ve seen them hold garage sales, bake sales and more to raise the money,” says Thomley.
As a result of this level of volunteer commitment, Headwaters River of Hope is one of the most cost-efficient relief organizations in operation. To date, 100 percent of the money raised has been used to pay for necessary materials. “We thought we’d go down and help people clean. Instead, we found we needed to help people gut damaged homes,” says Thomley. “One of our volunteers who owns a construction company joined with us to rebuild five new homes for the elderly.” Altogether, River of Hope projects have contributed more than $600,000 in materials and supplies to the Ninth Ward.
According to Thomley, the need for help in New Orleans is still critical. “Even though it’s been more than three years, many people have yet to receive an insurance settlement for personal property loss,” she says. “To make matters worse, the buildings and services that support the communities have not been restored.”
In the neighborhoods River of Hope serves, children have no safe recreational areas. Disease and crime are a part of their everyday lives. Some schools are operational, but after-school resources are nonexistent. No mental health resources are available to help these young people. Restoring supportive resources, such as a mental health clinic, domestic abuse center and an after-school resource center is Headwaters River of Hope’s priority for 2009.
Until recently, River of Hope has been supported primarily by Thomley’s for-profit businesses: Orion Associates, Meridian Services and Orion ISO. “Our vision and mission are growing. The excitement and commitment of our volunteers is stronger every year. The need is critical, so every day we’re looking for new partners to join us,” she says. “It’s amazing what every dollar can do when it’s matched with the power of a grassroots effort. Together with contributors and volunteers, we can make a real difference in the lives of the children and families whose neighborhoods are still recovering from Katrina’s destruction.”
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