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Oklahoma’s DR plans for future growth, impact

MOORE, Okla. (BP) — With more than 5,000 trained volunteers, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s (BGCO) Disaster Relief organization is one of the largest and busiest in the country.

Often called upon during the nation’s worst disasters, the team continues to look for ways to improve — whether creating better methods to save lives or rebuilding the damage left behind a storm.

Safe haven for students

At a ceremony at Central Junior High School in Moore, Okla., BGCO’s disaster relief organization presented a $500,000 donation to Moore, Okla., public schools to help build a 1,600-person storm shelter.

The convention, which has an ongoing involvement in the rebuilding efforts following the May 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes, is designating the gift for Central Elementary School and Central Junior High School in Moore. Last year’s storm killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary, also in Moore.

“We are privileged to present the Moore schools with this check to help fund a storm shelter building at Central in Moore, which will benefit an estimated 1,600 students, teachers and staff,” Anthony L. Jordan, BGCO executive director-treasurer, said at the April 2014 ceremony. “This investment is made possible because of the generosity of thousands of Baptists and others who gave toward Oklahoma Baptists’ disaster relief and recovery work.”

Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines appeared with Jordan and other BGCO officials at the site near Central Elementary School and Central Junior High School, where the storm shelter will be constructed.

“We are grateful beyond words for this investment by Oklahoma Baptists, which will mean so much peace of mind and provided safety to so many families,” Romines said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said the Oklahoma Baptist convention and its volunteers were on the front lines of the response and recovery efforts when disaster struck last May.

“Oklahoma Baptists disaster relief served thousands of meals to victims and volunteers, and cleared debris from more than 1,200 home sites,” she said. “This latest donation shows the continued commitment of the BGCO and its leadership to the safety and well-being of Oklahoma families. Their generosity will mean thousands of children will now be safer in the event of an emergency, and their parents will have the comfort of knowing they have a secure place to go during a storm or tornado. My thanks go out to the BGCO and its members for their continued great work on behalf of our Oklahoma community.”

Participants at the gift announcement ceremony included BGCO Disaster Relief director Sam Porter, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and members of the Moore community.

“We challenge all of the relief agencies to get involved in a similar fashion as Oklahoma Baptists, working to provide safety to the students of the great state of Oklahoma,” Porter said.

Safe keeping for equipment

In addition to that donation, one of Porter’s long dreamed-of and prayed-for dreams of BGCO’s Disaster Relief fleet having its own property will become a reality.

In a unanimous vote April 13, members of First Baptist Church in Moore agreed to donate five acres of the church’s nearly 75-acre site to the BGCO. The plot is located at the extreme northwest corner of the church’s property.

“To have our own site is something I’ve dreamed of for years,” Porter, who came to the convention in 1998, said. “We’ve grown from 300 volunteers to more than 5,500, and the only facility we have had was a barn built back in 1982 — a 60-by-90-foot building at Boys Ranch Town (BRT) in Edmond.

“We have been living on borrowed land, and we have been parking our equipment there since 1998.”

One major area of need for the organization, Porter said, has been warehouse space.

“When we started, we had one truck, one child-care trailer and a travel trailer. Now we have 19 chainsaw trailers, 18 feeding units, plus the big semi feeding unit,” he said.

“There are two semis and our mobile command bus, a two-ton truck and at least 12 to 15 other types of trailers that house water, feeding, chainsaw, ash-out and mud-out units out there,” Porter said. “The only thing that fits in the building are two semi-trailers, one tractor and the mobile command center. Everything else has to sit outside right now.”

Despite “offers of huge donations of goods and tools, especially after catastrophic disasters,” Porter said he has had to turn them away because there was no place to store them.

The gift of land will pave the way for the BGCO to build a fully-functional disaster response and training center.

“We’ll house our offices and all of our equipment there, and do our training there,” Porter explained. “We will be able to house volunteers when we have a disaster in the Oklahoma City metro area. It will be where we operate from; we’ll have warehousing there when we do receive donations.”

But there is still much work to be done, Porter noted.

“We’ll try to erect about a 15,000-square-foot building, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to do that. The gift from [First Baptist, Moore] is worth a fortune, but it will cost us, we’re guessing between $3 and $4 million to complete our facility.”

Porter said a capital fund raising project will be launched to raise the money necessary to pay for the facility, probably sometime after Jan. 1, 2015.

In the meantime, Porter said he hopes to at least put up an electronic sign that displays where Oklahoma Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams are working around the globe.

“We never spend money on advertising, but we want to put a sign up so we can tell every day, 24-7, what Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief is doing and where we are doing it. If we’re in the Philippines, in Haiti or wherever, it will tell the 200,000 to 300,000 or so people who drive by that location every day what we are doing,” Porter said.

“It’s been my dream and vision for Oklahoma Baptist to have a property along a major highway to tell our story; we’re always the first to respond. Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, says on a regular basis if it wasn’t for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, we couldn’t do national disasters.”

First Baptist Church pastor Kevin Clarkson said the gift was, “bathed in prayer and stemmed from a message BGCO executive director-treasurer Anthony L. Jordan gave at the 2012 BGCO Annual Meeting and we became aware of the need.”

“We prayed through it … when we brought it to the congregation, it was a unanimous vote,” he said. “I think our church — maybe because we host the conventions and other meetings frequently — has a real appreciation for the Convention and obviously supports the Cooperative Program at a strong level.”

“Our belief is that as we bless others, God will, in turn, bless us in many ways. We have been blessed, and we’re going to continue to bless others and get blessed back. So, it just goes on.
Bob Nigh is managing editor of The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, where these items first appeared. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • By Bob Nigh/Oklahoma Baptist Messenger