VDRA cultivating 'giving cycle'

Story and photos
by Callie Sterling

Members of the Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance (VDRA) have been working tirelessly to assist Vilonia residents who lost homes in the 2011 and 2014 tornados.

The group was formed initially after the 2011 storms. Two members were selected from five local churches for a total of 10 VDRA board members. Martha Martin is the chairman of VDRA.

“It is so amazing to be able to just help people,” VDRA Case Supervisor Sandy Towles said. “When they come to us they have lost a lot. It is so great to be able to restore the hope in their eyes through our efforts.”

The non-profit organization is solely volunteer-based.

“We have a goal [to build] 80 houses, and so far we are at 12 homes,” said VDRA Volunteer Coordinator Jerry Carroll.

There is a certain criteria the citizens must meet in order to receive a home from VDRA.     

“The 2011 tornados were a learning process for us,” Towles said. “We didn’t have the best system in place the first time. This time we have more standards in place for sustainability. The homeowner has to keep the house up and things like that.”

In addition to rules and regulations set by VDRA, credit scores and background checks are also a factor in the selection process.

“The credit score was not the most important factor necessarily,” Towles said. “If their credit score was low and not where it needed to be, we work with the individuals to help raise their credit score before they move in.”

The families that are selected are required to take maintenance and finance classes. These classes provide knowledge on how to maintain the home as well as how to budget accordingly when they receive the home.

“The maintenance classes are just in place to help the homeowner keep the home in good condition,” Towles said. “We just want the families to be fully prepared in all aspects before they receive their new home.”

Several volunteer groups have assisted VDRA. Some volunteers have helped physically build the homes and others have offered financial support for the homes.

“We have had so many groups help us I can’t even name them all,” Towles said. “Habitat for Humanity, the Apostolic Christian World Relief and Samaritan’s Purse have been some big contributors to this program.”

VDRA gives all the glory to God for the work that the organization has been able to accomplish. Towles says many decisions are faith-based and God has continued to follow through with financial assistance for VDRA.

“God just keeps sending people to help us,” Towles said. “I say God sends the check and I love to see who He lets sign it. We truly run by the seat of our pants while God holds them up.”

Although the volunteer work is tiresome at times, the members of VDRA are happy to assist those in need.

“It takes up a lot of time sometimes but it is worth it,” Carroll said.

VDRA has made tremendous strides since the tornados hit last spring, but the job is not yet complete.

“We still are looking for volunteers to help with cleaning up debris,” Towles said. “There are still shards of metal in some yards and before these yards can be mowed we have to get all of the debris fully cleaned up.”

Volunteers may call 501.428.9228 or e-mail [email protected].

“We want this giving cycle to continue and for the new homeowners to pay it forward in the future when they are able to give to others in need,” Towles said.