In response to historic flooding across much of Rhode Island at the end of March, the University donated $50,000 last week to the United Way of Rhode Island's Flood Recovery Fund. Brown community members affected by the flood have also begun to take advantage of University emergency relief programs.
"They are calling this the 500-year flood," said Tony Maione, United Way of Rhode Island's CEO and president. "This was a very, very unusual event."
Brown was among the top five financial donors to the recovery fund, according to an April 8 press release from the United Way, a non-profit organization that addresses emergency relief, along with a number of community issues and individual needs.
The fund was created specifically to aid those affected by flooding in Rhode Island with "needs that will not be covered by other sources," such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, Maione said.
Maione said that United Way is attempting to use the money raised to try to work with smaller agencies which will then communicate with individuals in order to understand the "day-by-day needs that are not being met" for Rhode Island citizens.
This was one of the main reasons the University chose to donate to United Way in particular, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.
"We have a long-standing relationship with United Way," Quinn said. "What we really liked about this fund is that funds are being provided directly to those in need, being given to members of the community."
Administrators communicated with the governor's office, elected officials and organizations such as Serve Rhode Island to emphasize that it stood "ready, willing and able" to assist in aiding individuals, Quinn said.
United Way was able to organize its fundraising efforts swiftly in the wake of the flood, raising a total of $590,000 as of April 7, Maione said. The organization's existing emergency hotline and relationships with corporate partners enabled it to mobilize an immediate response, he said.
Closer to home
The University also made a concerted effort to organize quickly in providing flood relief to members of the Brown community.
"We know that cash is really important in addressing these immediate needs," she said.
Among the services the University offers are Employee Emergency Grants. These grants — offering up to $5000 each — come from a fund devoted to helping employees "recover financially from a loss due to natural emergencies, accidents, catastrophes, deaths, or illnesses," according to a April 2 memo from Vice President for Human Resources Karen Davis.
As of April 12, seven grant requests had been approved, said Beth Gentry, assistant vice president for financial and administrative services. The University shortened the application to require less financial information — since such records may have been damaged in the flood — and "relaxed some of the normal grant procedures," Gentry said.
"We are trying to be sensitive to the issues that are out there," she said. More grant requests are expected, although Gentry is not sure of the exact number.
"We can get money to folks faster than the government," Davis added. She said though Brown may not be able to give as much money to individuals as the government, Employee Emergency Grants are a good starting place for recovery.
"We were so happy when we got the help, and now everything is back to normal," said Ece Gamsiz, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry who lives in an apartment complex in Warwick with her fiance, Alper Uzun, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Bio Med Pediatrics.
Gamsiz and Uzun, who have lived in their apartment only two months, were told by police on March 30 that they could not stay in the building due to flooding. Not until April 10 was the couple allowed to return home.
Within days of applying for an Employee Emergency Grant, Gamsiz and Uzun received a check from the University. Both said they are extremely grateful for the support provided in such a difficult time.
"It's nice to be a part of this community. They really saved our lives those last few days," said Gamsiz.
Uzun's advisor, Professor of Pediatrics James Padbury, and Gamsiz's advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Eric Morrow, also lent support during the disaster and encouraged Gamsiz and Uzun to apply for the grant. "I think the Brown support is extremely important," said Uzun.
‘Anxious for opportunities'
The flood brought more attention to University support and relief programs available to employees, Davis said.
"Even without this kind of historic event, we do have a lot to offer," she said. Additional resources available to University employees affected by the flood include employee loans, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program and benefits programs, Davis listed in her memo.
The University is working on a number of initiatives to provide not only immediate relief in the wake of this particular disaster, but also to address the long-term effects that events such as the flood may produce, Quinn noted.
As an example, she suggested research projects looking at longer-term community mapping and water testing, and said it is important to understand "the impact of this flood and help the state consider ways to ensure this doesn't happen again."
"In times of need, whether ... in Rhode Island or halfway across the globe, the students, faculty and staff at Brown are always anxious for opportunities to provide support," Quinn said.