Forney (CBSDFW.COM) – Hours after new Harvard graduate, Caitria O’Neill moved back home to Monson, Massachusetts last year, a tornado ripped the roof off her parent’s house and sent her life spinning in a new direction.
“It was chaotic,” she remembers. “I just got a crash course in disaster organizing after that.”
Now in Forney, the 23-year-old is applying what she’s learned studying disaster recovery in New Orleans, Joplin and her own hometown.
“Disasters are really the same everywhere in the problems that occur. You’re gonna have trouble with spontaneous volunteers, you’re gonna have problem with too much donations,” O’Neill said .
Immediately after a disaster, volunteers and donations may get turned away, O’Neill said , as city and community leaders are still organizing their efforts.
“You’re almost dealing with more than you can handle,” Cooper Taylor said, the community outreach coordinator at C-Life Church in Forney. The offers of help don’t last forever, though, according to O’Neill.
“About 50 percent of all web searches that are ever gonna happen to find ‘Forney Tornado’ happen within the first 7 days,” she said. “Capturing that interest and turning into action is super important.”
Her website, Recovers.Org, allows people to enter what specific skills or possessions they’re willing to donate, creating a database of donors. As victims begin rebuilding their homes and discover their specific needs, they can enter them, as well. The web program then helps match the individuals for weeks, months, and even years to come.
Forney is the first city to use the website, but its page has already received thousands of hits, some from as far away as India and Mongolia. Royce City has now also signed on.
“It changed my life,” O’Neill said , “I’ve never felt more useful than telling a plumber – to go to a house where someone needed a plumber.”