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STEP Program Provides a Bridge on the Long Road to Recovery

Nicki Christian
Monday, February 11, 2019 - 1:43pm

Nearly five months ago, Hurricane Florence swamped Nickie Christian’s yard in Matxon, N.C. with five feet of water, and more than a foot of water rose inside her home. She needed a lot of help getting her house back into livable condition, and didn’t know where she would find it, until she was contacted by the STEP program.

North Carolina’s Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program provides partial repairs at no cost to homeowners, so Hurricane Florence survivors can return to their homes while longer-term repairs continue. The FEMA-funded and state-operated program does not return a home to its pre-storm condition, but it does ensure that the home is made safe, livable and functional for the homeowner, so they can continue with final repairs.

More than 4,200 homeowners are enrolled to participate in STEP and repairs to those homes will be completed this winter and spring by general contractors and by volunteers from agencies like North Carolina’s Baptists on Mission and United Methodist Disaster Relief.

A team of Baptist volunteers worked on Nickie Christian’s Robeson County home, replacing her collapsed ceiling and floors, soaked wallboard and kitchen cabinets.

“Recovery is a long process and you have to practice patience,” Christian was reassured by the Baptist volunteers as they provided encouragement and helped her family recover from the storm.

Christian spent three months living in a hotel room, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program. TSA provides short-term hotel stays to survivors who were displaced from their homes and need shelter while they look for longer-term housing. Christian her family lived out of that hotel room from September until just after Christmas, when the STEP repairs to their home were complete.

Recovery after any hurricane or natural disaster can take years, and the process has taken a toll on Christian and her family.

“My stove and my refrigerator were damaged during the storm and the Baptist men surprised me by replacing both,” Christian said.

“I just had the best experience with them spiritually,” she said. “It was really hard for me and my family because I have five kids and a husband, but every time I wanted to give up, the Baptist men prayed with me. The experience with them made me and my family closer. I felt like we were drifting away because I didn’t know how I was going to repair my home, but they taught me that prayer changes things and everything happens for a reason.”

The STEP program is available to eligible homeowners in Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson counties. Eligible homeowners were selected and contacted by FEMA based on data gathered from registered storm survivors.

To date, more than 120 homes have been repaired or are under repair through the STEP program.  Work is scheduled to be complete on all 4,200 homes by early April.

Tierra Bethel