CWS Domestic Emergency Program Renews Focus on the Most Vulnerable

June 5, 2015

Agency will help refugees, immigrants in the U.S. to become disaster resilient

NEW YORK – Global humanitarian agency Church World Service will reposition its U.S. domestic disaster response program to focus on vulnerable groups within disaster-prone areas, including resettled refugee, vulnerable immigrant and undocumented populations.

CWS has a rich history of supporting communities impacted by domestic disasters here in the U.S. for more than 30 years. The mandate of the CWS domestic disaster response program will soon be updated to better align with and mutually reinforce the extensive expertise of its immigration and refugee program.

Moving forward, CWS will invest in preparedness and recovery among immigrant, undocumented and refugee populations, noting the heightened vulnerability to domestic disasters among these groups. While initially launched in Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina, the program expects to expand to New York and New Jersey in 2016. The prioritization of these states includes analysis of disaster trends, population demographics and CWS response capacity.

At the national level, CWS will continue to provide CWS Kits and CWS Blankets when requested. The agency will be prepared for tailored responses to large-scale disasters across the US on a case-by-case basis, but existing programming – such as wide-spread long term recovery support and training – will be concluded by June 30.

“I am personally excited about this strategic decision – I believe it allows CWS to use its resources and expertise to better serve some of the most vulnerable,” Director of Development and Humanitarian Assistance, Donna Derr said. Charged with oversight of the CWS domestic disaster response program, she emphasized, “Refugees, immigrants, and undocumented folks have faced too many obstacles in accessing disaster services. CWS will fill this critical gap.”

Erol Kekic, the Director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program echoed Derr. “We have nearly 70 years of experience accompanying refugees at every stage of their journey, and helping those entering the U.S. to integrate into new communities. I believe it is a great fit for us to now support these groups in new ways, ensuring their resilience to disaster.”

The changes will take effect July 1 and be evaluated in late 2016 before potential expansion into additional disaster-prone states.

For additional information on CWS domestic disaster response in Texas and Oklahoma, please contact: Susanne Gilmore, CWS Emergency Response Specialist,

For additional information on CWS domestic disaster response in Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina, please contact: Sandra Kennedy-Owes, CWS Emergency Response Specialist,

“I am excited about the possibilities of combining our rich history and experience of serving refugees and immigrants, with our domestic disaster work,” CWS President and CEO, the Rev. John McCullough said. “Ours is a tradition of accompaniment and service to society’s most vulnerable. In this move, we’re honoring our past while looking, with hope and direction, to the future.”