Our recovery story began two years ago. That’s 730 days, 17,520 hours since life changed for so many in Midland County.

The historic flooding impacted thousands. Over 2,400 homes initially reported flood damage in Midland County, causing an estimated $100-$150 million in residential damage.

“That was where our journey began,” shared Holly Miller, President & CEO of United Way of Midland County and chair of the Long-term Disaster Recovery Group [LTDRG]. “We honor the initial efforts of our Emergency Operations Center; our city, county, township and village leaders; along with the amazing first responders. Their decisive leadership and commitment ensured that not a single life was lost. The ways we have all worked together is the heart of our recovery journey.”

Relief efforts have been dynamic, evolving and required a phased and collaborative approach.

The first phase of response was meeting basic needs like food, shelter, personal care, cleaning and other recovery items. United Way teamed up with Dow in the initial weeks to develop a logistic plan for in-kind donated items and establishing eight distribution centers to serve people close to home.

“Team Dow not only shared their logistics know-how, but were on the ground volunteering and advocating with contacts across the country to help,” shared Miller. “They even graciously transformed the Dow hanger into warehouse for in-kind donated materials.”

The distribution centers continued serving survivors for months as Meridian Elementary, Senior Services, Greater Midland Community Center, Greater Midland North Family Center, Midland High School, Bullock Creek High School, Coleman High School, the Arnold Center and West Midland Family Center lent their locations and teams to get these vital resources out to families impacted. Volunteers served every day, including numerous corporate groups who stepped up to serve.

Next was working to collect data from homeowners. Damage assessments were conducted online through Midland County, along with visual inspections. Numerous community groups and VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active During Disaster) also documented household damage and initial clean-up work completed, along with data collected through volunteers and 211.

On July 14, the Federal Disaster Declaration was signed, bringing much-needed Federal resources to our community to begin the rebuild process. This marked the beginning of the Long-Term Recovery stage. FEMA assistance and SBA loan applications became available for homeowners and businesses.

The Long-term Disaster Recovery Group was formed with a broad representation of regional nonprofits, corporations, businesses, government, faith community, civic groups and schools. The group committed to serving as an advocate for our community and utilized best-practice strategies involved in long-term efforts. This includes leveraging resources to have the biggest impact and stretch our resources to serve the most people.

“Our need to move together, go forward, and take bold action was never greater than with the challenges we faced in 2020,” said Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. “The work of the Long-term Disaster Recovery Group is not only a great representation of our community’s vision statement – Midland: Together. Forward. Bold. An exceptional place where everyone thrives, but also representative of the fact that truly impactful and great things happen when we collaborate – especially in the face of a disaster.”

The process was driven by Disaster Case Managers (DCMs) who helped to support and guide individuals through the rebuild journey. DCMs worked closely with the construction managers and volunteer managers to assess homeowner needs, develop plans and deploy donated materials and volunteers to ensure the people impacted most by the flood received the help they needed.

“Raegan [a LTDRG Disaster Case Manager] was great to work with,” shared a flood survivor. “Although I wish we didn’t have this experience that led us to needing her help, we are incredibly grateful to have had her on our side through this recovery. If she didn’t have an answer, she found it. If she didn’t have the resources herself, she connected us to the people and places that did.”

Recovery from a catastrophic natural disaster takes years and is highly collaborative. Success is measured in getting individuals and families safely housed in a primary residence to create stability.

“As we mark the second anniversary of the 2020 Dam Failures,” shared Miller “we pause to celebrate the way our community has worked together, day after day to help our neighbors. While many were able to recover on their own, with the help of insurance, family and caring neighbors; many others have been helped through the collaborative efforts of the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group.”

Outcomes to Celebrate

  • With 5,235 total FEMA registrations, over $35,263,259 has been disbursed to local survivors. In addition, low-interests SBA loans have been granted in the amount of $40,367,400. That’s over $75M federal dollars invested that we did not have to invest locally.
  • Support came from across town and across the nation, as over $3,592,604 of in-kind donated items were collected and distributed throughout Midland and Gladwin counties. This included discounts offered through two Whirlpool appliance sales, a generous donation of siding and insulation from Saint-Gobain and basic needs items arriving from all over the country.
  • The partnership between United Way and Habitat for Humanity has seen over $321,000 invested to help struggling families rebuild their homes and lives.
  • Home To Stay assisted 76 individuals with rent assistance and provided resources to restore water for 165 individuals, paid for by an investment of over $493,500 from United Way’s Rise Together Fund.
  • United Way and the Midland Area Community Foundation created funds to help with the remaining unmet needs. They raised $5,221,308 with generous gifts of foundations, corporations and individuals. To date, they have already invested $4,979,563 to rebuild over 179 homes; 78 in the city of Midland, 91 in Sanford and 8 near the Gladwin County border.
  • Midland Area Community Foundation helped with the initial funding of disaster case managers, the construction manager and a case manager at Home to Stay – utilizing philanthropic funds to catalyze the work of experts in disaster recovery.
  • Even with Covid-19 in the area, over 33,000 volunteer hours were invested their time help people recover. The value of those hours is just under $1M. Service ranged from help with mucking out, demo, painting and siding to debris removal, furniture deliveries and much more.

This is just a glimpse of the ways this community came together to help their neighbors. The list of organizations and people who made a difference is long; the impact is lasting. At the heart of our story, are the people who lost so much who continue to work with the community to put their lives back together.

“If we would have viewed flood recovery as an individual endeavor; we would have failed,” shared Miller. Our success is rooted in our ability to pull together, work together and become stronger together. The love for neighbors came from every corner of our community, throughout our state and even across the nation. We joined hands, leaned into the impossible and got busy. The results speak for themselves.”