June 1, 2012

'I see miracles every day'

Hope guides Jane Crady as she leads archdiocese’s efforts to help disaster survivors

As coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, Jane Crady talks with volunteer Pierre Gerber about the next step in restoring a home in Henryville that was damaged by a deadly tornado on March 2. Crady says she has experienced the touch of God daily in the volunteers who have come to help restore people’s homes and lives. (Submitted photo)

As coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, Jane Crady talks with volunteer Pierre Gerber about the next step in restoring a home in Henryville that was damaged by a deadly tornado on March 2. Crady says she has experienced the touch of God daily in the volunteers who have come to help restore people’s homes and lives. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

Jane Crady calls God “strange”—in an affectionate way.

She also says, “I just laugh with God now. I say, ‘You have such a sense of humor.’ ”

It’s not the reaction that some people might expect from a grandmother of eight who has dedicated most of the past six years to helping people whose lives have been devastated by one of the worst hurricanes in American history, by two floods in Indiana, and by the tornadoes that roared through southern Indiana on March 2, damaging hundreds of homes and killing 13 people. (Related: Skilled volunteers to help with next phase of rebuilding process)

Yet, while Crady has seen disaster and devastation in horrific ways, she has also witnessed hope and help in generous supply as coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

She believes she has also experienced the touch of God.

“I see miracles every day,” says Crady, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville. “When you go in with a servant’s heart and just want to help, miracles do happen. And God sends people. He’s so strange. He really is.

“One time, there was a gal, and we were pretty much done with fixing her house after Hurricane Katrina. But the tile needed to be laid on the floors. And we couldn’t find anybody that had tile experience. And so she and I were sitting under a tree talking about this, and my phone rang. I said, ‘Excuse me, honey.’

“It was a call from a guy who’s volunteering. He’s coming from Missouri. And he’s by himself. He asks if I could put him to work. I said, ‘What kind of work do you do?’ He said, ‘I’m a tile man.’ It happens all the time like that. It really does. I mean, we’re praying for a bulldozer and the next thing you know someone is driving up with a bulldozer. I just laugh with God now. I say, ‘You have such a sense of humor.’ ”

While Crady laughs with God, she also says she strives to serve as “his hands and his feet” to others. It’s one of the defining qualities of her approach to helping people in desperate need, says David Siler, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

“When most people would become overwhelmed, she just becomes more determined,” he says. “Jane is extremely resourceful and will stop at nothing to ensure that victims of a disaster are treated with dignity and respect, and are made as close to whole as possible.”

He recalls how she helped two young parents and their four children after a 2008 flood in Martinsville destroyed their poorly constructed home. Crady learned about the family after they began living in a small, run-down RV that they borrowed. She helped the father, a manual laborer, find a job. Then she led the effort to rebuild the house, including the construction of an addition to it.

Siler also recalled how Crady rushed to Henryville shortly after she learned that the small Indiana community had been devastated by the tornadoes on March 2.

“She kicked right into action and has not stopped yet—and she won’t until the last person in the area, who wants to be, is back in their home,” he says. “It is almost as though Jane looks at a tornado or flood and tells it, ‘You can knock us down, but we will get right back up!’

“What motivates Jane is the hundreds of people she has helped move back into their homes and get on with their lives. She understands that our work following disasters is a visible sign of God’s care and concern for us.”

The Criterion recently interviewed Crady—a mother of three grown children who also helps to care for her 90-year-old mother—about her work as the archdiocese’s coordinator of disaster response and preparedness. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Q. How did you become the archdiocese’s coordinator for disaster preparedness and response?

A. “My brother belonged to St. Bartholomew Parish [in Columbus]. Right after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he went down to a place called Waveland, Miss., where the eye of the hurricane hit. My brother kept calling me and said, ‘We have to help these people, but we need somebody to coordinate the volunteers coming in with the work that needs to be done. We need somebody with people management background and construction skills. And I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I grew up in a construction family.

“The next thing I knew, I was down in Mississippi. This was in 2006. We thought I’d be down there for three months. I ended up being down there for 10 months. I started out in a tent on the beach in early spring. I went back and forth between here and there, coordinating people from all over the country. One time, it just so happened I was walking off a plane in Mississippi when David Siler called me and said, ‘Can you get home? Indiana is under water.’ This was in 2008.

“I worked mainly in Martinsville after the floods in 2008. I was there for about two years. In 2011, after the spring floods hit Bloomington, I worked there, too.”

Q. Talk about how much it means to people when they’ve been affected by a natural disaster and Catholic Charities comes to help.

A. “If it turns out they are Catholic, their reaction is, ‘Oh my God! I’m just so grateful you’re here.’ When we help people who either have no Church or are a member of another denomination, their reaction is, ‘I never knew Catholics did this type of thing.’ I had a 92-year-old lady who told me, ‘If I wasn’t so old, honey, I’d join the Church over this.’

“The communities we’re working in now are not highly Catholic. To see us there, number one, is shocking to a lot of people. But they’re just so grateful.

“We do things differently from most other organizations. A lot of them come and go really quick. They do debris clean-up or they pass out food, and they’re gone. We’re one of the very few organizations that will stay clear to the end. This will probably take two years. We get heavily involved in the case management process and make sure everyone is treated fairly, and we’re not duplicating services.”

Q. When you first get to the scene of a disaster, such as Henryville, and see the devastation, what’s it like for you to be in the midst of that situation?

A. “Your first reaction is just total pure heartbreak. Because you know what those families are going through, and what they’re going to go through. But then there’s also the adrenaline part that says, ‘Get in there and help.’

“With Hurricane Katrina, I probably spent the first three hours crying. It was so devastating. I did the same thing with this one. To get down there, I drove in the direction of Osgood and Holton. And Holton was just wiped out. But you have to make a quick transition. I can fall apart driving between the towns, but the minute you’re in the heart of it, as heartbreaking as it is, you have to become professional and introduce yourself to the first response teams and especially the officials of the town, and make connections with all the churches.

“The first reaction from the people you’re trying to help is that they’re in shock. They don’t know what they need. And they don’t know who you are or what help you can give them. You just reassure them you’re there to help them with everything from food, water and medical supplies clear to the rebuilding. You tell them, ‘We will be here, no matter what, until the end.’ ”

Q. What motivates you to do this work?

A. “I see the hope we can give. The biggest thing we can give anybody is hope. But we have to be very careful. There are people who come in right away to help and promise things, and then they are gone. People give false hope, and that’s very, very hurtful.

“So when you can offer hope and know that you can deliver it, it makes the difference. You never promise anything. You always say, ‘I can’t promise you anything, darling, but I will do everything in my power to give you the help you need.’ That’s what people say when they’re asked, ‘What did Catholic Charities bring to you?’ They say, ‘They brought me hope, and then they followed through on it.’ ”

Q. Have you ever struggled with your faith when you’ve arrived upon the scene of a disaster?

A. “No. I struggled with my faith many years ago, and got way past it. I know why I am there, and I know who we’re representing. And I truly know we are the hands and feet of Jesus on the ground. And that’s the way it is. I know that.”

Q. Share a specific moment or two when you remember feeling good about helping a family or an individual.

A. “There are so many. I think of one family, and what our Catholic Charities counselors have been able to do. The family has a little boy who just turned 4 and started having emotional problems from the tornado. We were able to get counseling help for him. The father came into the trailer we have set up at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Henryville. He was just in tears. He said, ‘Yeah, the house is destroyed, and we lost a lot of our stuff, but I don’t care about that. But my son can’t sleep at night.’ Our counselors have worked with the boy, and we’ve seen great strides there.

“The spiritual part is huge, too. A lot of people do blame God: ‘Why did he do this to me?’ When you can sit and be with them and guide them through, it helps. And when you’re about halfway through the rebuilding, you start to watch the transformation of these people. You start to see them smile again, shine again and go back to church again. When you can give people something they’ve waited for, and to see their eyes light up for the first time since the disaster, it’s so rewarding.”

Q. Talk about your efforts to train parishes to develop teams for disaster preparedness and response.

A. “I’ve been trying to get parishes ready. What if your church is hit? Do you have an evacuation plan? While the schools have that in place, the churches don’t. We started with, ‘Let’s prepare your family and your parish. Once you’re secure, what do you do to help the community?’ When I started the training, a lot of people said, ‘This is something we’ve always wanted to do, but we didn’t know how to do it.’

“Last year, the parishes weren’t ready to respond. But this year, they have, especially the New Albany Deanery, bless their hearts. They’ve done some amazing things in helping the people hit by the tornadoes. It really touches me to see what they’re doing. I’ve had about 50 people help constantly. They’re doing everything from intake to helping with the food distribution. It really gets to me to see how well they’ve done.”

Q. What keeps you going?

A. “It’s the support of my family. And it’s being able to serve people and know that I have a way to help. Since I started helping after Hurricane Katrina, this has been the most rewarding six years of my life, other than raising my children. I’ve loved every minute of it.

“You just form these wonderful relationships with people you’ve helped. It’s heartbreaking for sure, but you know as long as the hope is there, the rewards and the little miracles are going to happen. That’s what keeps you going.” †

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