The grant, administered by the nonprofit Community Action of Etowah County, was received in June and will run out at the end of the month, unless it is extended.
“After I went out to assess, I realized there was a lot of work to be done,” Gary Lewis, director of the Etowah County Foundation. “The goal should be to complete it.”
The money, made available through the federal government’s Workforce Investment Act, is funneled through Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to Community Action of Etowah County. Called a national emergency grant, it is designated to employ those people who were displaced by the storm, or have experienced long-term unemployment.
It pays the employees $9 per hour to work repairing the storm zone in Calhoun County, stocking a store for storm victims and repairing damage that resulted from the storms in surrounding counties, Lewis said.
The grant has, to date, provided approximately $50,000 to the Etowah nonprofit on a reimbursement basis. Lewis said he expects that figure to increase by about $200,000, money that will be used to help pay the employees working in Calhoun County. The grant has been paying for a total of 44 persons to work in a four-county area, including Calhoun.
But it’ll take more money to keep the employees on the job past December, Lewis said.
Monday the 27 new employees assisted the Rock Foundation, a Weaver-based ministry dedicated to helping storm victims.
“What the Rock Foundation and the payroll grant … together what they are doing now is wonderful. It is one of the best things on Earth,” storm victim and employee Shirley Reaves said. “My hope and prayer is that it’s extended.”
Working with the foundation, the 27 employees are helping rebuild one home, clear debris from another and helping restore some homes belonging to fellow employees, said Wendi Wheeler, who founded Rock Foundation with her husband, Rick Wheeler.
It’s the most assistance the foundation has received since the family began helping storm victims about six months ago, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said immediately after the storms she and her husband began a door-to-door campaign to assess the needs in the Peeks Hill Road area and the Big Oak community. She said the family established a volunteer resource center stocked with donated grocery items to help care for the victims in the immediate area.
The family also assisted with filing insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency appeals. She had to build up trust with storm victims before they would accept her assistance, she said.
“I’ve got a file cabinet full of these people that I consider friends,” Wheeler said. “They needed the help. You can’t think when you’re in such a catastrophe like that.”
But, Wheeler said, about six weeks ago the donations evaporated, and the foundation focused its energy on the rebuilding phase, which the employees are helping with.
“We are emphatic. It’s great,” Wendi Wheeler said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.