Reflections on the NVOAD Conference

May 30, 2024

This May, CWS’ Emergency Preparedness Response and Recovery (EPRR) team participated in the annual National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) conference. Below are reflections from each of the EPRR team members:

Zach speaking at NVOAD Conference

Zach Wolgemuth, EPRR Program Director:

Though I’ve attended over a dozen National VOAD Conferences throughout my career this specific conference was special because it was my first conference serving as the Director of CWS’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Program. I’ve learned that while there is great value in the workshops and plenary sessions the real value in this event comes from the networking, relationship building and comradery of peers. With seven staff combined between the EPRR and Business Development teams, CWS’ presence during this event was palpable, highly appreciated and valued by those who have a history of working with CWS in the domestic disaster response sector. This renewed energy is evidenced by follow-up meetings that have already been scheduled with organizations that are looking to learn more about possible intersectionality between programs, CWS’ election to leadership of the Migration, Displacement and Refugee Committee, the request from FEMA for CWS to record a podcast, as well as the engagement of all EPRR team members across several NVOAD committees. I’m especially proud of the EPRR team as each member took full advantage of the learning opportunities, networking and relationship building that is critical to our collaboration and work within this sector.

Madison Reese, EPRR Program Coordinator:

This NVOAD conference was my second conference and marked the one-year anniversary of me joining the EPRR team. I had personal reflections on how far the EPRR team had come in that year; a new director and two new team members. For the first time, it felt like I could see the growth and implementation of the EPRR strategy that I’d read so many times. Having time together as an EPRR team was priceless. It was special to self-reflect on my personal growth in the disaster space as well. I felt I had more to contribute and more of a voice this year, as I grow more comfortable in my position and the disaster space.

EPRR team at NVOAD conference

The other theme that stood out to me was the desire to know more about refugees and immigrants in the disaster space. NVOAD set up a new Refugee, Displacement and Migration Committee. Zach is the chair, and I sit on the committee. There were multiple sessions relating to refugees and immigrants within the disaster space and how to provide equitable services to those populations. It is great to see these populations being highlighted in disasters. I am so excited the EPRR population is launching and think it is so timely for what is needed in the disaster space right now. There is a desperate need for education about working with immigrant populations. CWS is positioned to be a leader in working with these populations in the disaster space. What an exciting time!

Nikki Riley,  EPRR Senior Manager:

This was my first time attending the NVOAD Conference, and it proved to be such a dynamic and informative experience. From having the chance to learn more about disaster response strategy to becoming acquainted with new faces and connections, the annual conference assisted me in establishing foundational knowledge and relationships as I entered the field for the first time.

During the week, I had a chance to connect with our denominational partners in person, which was invaluable. I also was able to attend various committee meetings and even got the chance to join two of them! I am happy to say that I am now a member of the Community Preparedness and Mass Care committees, which will provide our team with more connections and outlets for disaster preparedness, response and recovery materials. Additionally, I learned so much in the offered workshops, which ranged from FEMA information and interpreting individual assistance data to providing culturally-informed disaster spiritual care. Each of the speakers and instructors at the conference were engaging and willing to answer any questions that came to mind. I look forward to learning even more next year!

Melissa Reece, EPRR Senior Program Officer:

So many good things to say about NVOAD 2024. A few things stood out to me during the week in Phoenix. First was seeing that all organizations, large and small, were seen and heard; second, having the opportunity to network and share successes and best practices with top experts and partners from dozens of organizations that share a common goal was invaluable; and finally, hearing innovative approaches to create better outcomes in recovery for all affected by disaster.

It was clear that everyone took the time to recognize that the work we all do is very difficult, but also recognized that we can lighten the lift by sharing the load.

You can learn more about the EPRR program by clicking here. You can donate to the CWS Emergency Response Fund here.