LEESBURG - Volunteers participating in “Operation: Groundhog Heroes,” a newly developed response to disaster recovery, have begun to canvass the Lake County areas devastated by last week's deadly tornadoes.
According to Lake County Emergency Management officials, the volunteer-center operation is aimed to assist affected residents with small-home repairs and clean-up efforts on their private property.
To date, 43 AmeriCorps volunteers have arrived for “Operation: Groundhog Heroes.” They are joining the Christian Contractor's Association and VolunteerLake at the base camp in Leesburg, located at the Church of God Camp Moon, 33926 County Road 473 in Leesburg, to help lead volunteer recovery efforts. The operation is a new emergency management concept established by the Lake County Emergency Operations Center.
The purpose of “Operation: Groundhog Heroes” is to affiliate volunteers and organizations. The program is the first of its kind to be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The program considers the role of the volunteer as precious as the first responder. The operation's mission is to reduce any duplication of services, capture progress and organize efforts, all under the direction of the Emergency Operations Center.
The Groundhog Heroes canvassed the path devastation left from the deadly tornadoes. They plan to go door to door, comb every rural road and reach out to anyone in need of help. On Sunday, Feb. 11, the operation is preparing to shift its focus from canvass to clean-up efforts, with efforts on completing background checks and providing identification badges.
An additional 34 AmeriCorps members are expected to join “Operation: Groundhog Heroes” in the next couple of days. Not only will the teams be working with affected residents, they will also work to organize the remaining influx of volunteers under “Operation: Groundhog Heroes.”
As she poses for her identification badge Hillary Lavine, 22, said "This is my first deployment. I am here to help, and while I am here I will do the best at everything that I can."
Lavine flew in from the state of Washington on Thursday. So far she has helped to establish the camp, assess damage and identify the needs of residents.
"I am ready to help tarp roofs and clean up debris,” she said.
Kieron Weidner traveled more than 3,000 miles before reaching Leesburg. Weidner is a base-camp leader. He is a member of the Washington Conservatory Group, an affiliate of AmeriCorps. Weidner is no stranger to emergency response and has had numerous disaster deployments.
When asked about Lake County’s innovative “Operation: Groundhog Heroes” he said, “The resources made available to us have been incredibly valuable. They have reduced the time it takes us to get established, monetary costs, as well as logistics. Typically, we set up a camp that may just consist of tents and outdoor facilities. To respond to this disaster with a site already established such as this one has been a tremendous support.”
At this time, volunteers at the base camp are preparing to stay for the next six weeks. Volunteers assisting in the impacted areas of Lake County devastated by the Groundhog Day tornadoes are encouraged to visit a Volunteer Reception Center, referred to as “Operation: Groundhog Heroes,” to register.
The registration process is rather simple as it takes only approximately 30 minutes to complete. Any potential or existing volunteer working in the field is encouraged to go through this process at anytime between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week. To register, volunteers need to bring at least one government-issued photo identification (i.e. driver’s license).
Once a volunteer is registered, he or she will be issued a wristband and a photo ID card. This armband and card will give volunteers access to the volunteer center, where hot breakfast and dinner meals will be served daily. A volunteer needs to register only once.
The registration process helps Lake County coordinate volunteer work in the field. It is important to coordinate these incredible acts of unpaid assistance to ensure efforts are not duplicated.
For more information about “Operation: Groundhog Heroes,” call the Lake County Citizens Information Line at (352) 343-9732.