UMs, UMCOR still helping southwest Georgia recover


By Kara Witherow, Editor

United Methodists are known for being “the last to leave,” and in southwest Georgia, where Hurricane Michael swept through the area Oct. 10, 2018, as a devastating Category 3 storm, they’re still there, working to restore what was lost.

Rev. George Masciarelli was recently hired as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Hurricane Michael, working specifically in the Southwest District to coordinate long term recovery efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Michael. His position is a one-year recovery project and is funded through the connection by a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Working with him are Rev. Emory Smith, Volunteer Coordinator for Hurricane Michael; Neil Freeman, Job Site Coordinator for Hurricane Michael; Josh McElyea, Disaster Case Manager for Hurricane Michael; and volunteers Jeff Spicer and Paula LeCates.

Their work is focused on Decatur, Early, Seminole, and Miller Counties, the four counties where Hurricane Michael first entered when it came into Georgia.

Tarps are still on roofs, many still have backyards full of debris, and homes need to be cleaned and repaired. A lot has already been done, but there’s still much to do, Rev. Masciarelli said, to get homes and lives restored.

Revs. Masciarelli and Smith are scheduling work crews, verifying and lining up work sites, continuing case management, and training staff so more southwest Georgia residents can be served.

“We are here to help the vulnerable families, those who have not recovered and have not gone back to a new normal,” Rev. Masciarelli said.

Some are frustrated. They’ve seen others get back to normal and neighbors’ homes be repaired, but not theirs.

“They don’t know who or what can help them until we meet with them to go over their options,” he said. “It’s still their choice as to what kind of help they apply for, but we help them navigate and find the resources.”

All of Rev. Mascarelli’s team is from the southwest Georgia area and know the people and available resources. Rev. Masciarelli, a South Georgia pastor since 2000, serves Brinson, Iron City, and Jakin United Methodist Churches. Rev. Smith serves Sylvania, Faceville, and Hopewell United Methodist Churches in Bainbridge.

In addition to structural needs, there are a lot of physical and emotional needs associated with disaster recovery, and the team is prepared to help equip and assist those who need help.

“We need to know how to meet all their needs, not just how to get them a new roof,” Rev. Mascarelli said.

Full recovery will take time, patience, hard work, and faith, but The United Methodist Church and UMCOR will be there every step of the way, he said.

“If it takes six months for relief, it usually takes six years for full recovery in a community,” he said. “It’s a process, it really is. We’re country folk; we’re pretty resilient down here. We bounce back to a new normal rather quickly.”

Interested in serving on a work team in southwest Georgia? Do you have a skilled work team that can help serve? Contact Emory Smith at (229) 520-2542 or