Clay recovery committee has new leader, office

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail file photo
Ashley Truman (right), the new director of the Greater Clay Long-term Recovery Committee, is shown here with a survivor of the June 2016 flood. Truman volunteered with flood-recovery-related construction projects and worked for Pro West Virginia before taking on the new role in late May.

CLAY — The new leader of a committee focused on Clay County’s recovery from the June 2016 flood didn’t want the job at first. Ashley Truman has been helping with flood recovery for months, volunteering with home repair efforts and through her former job as a crisis response specialist to flood victims.

Truman started in May as the first full-time executive director of the Greater Clay Long-term Recovery Committee. Former chairwoman Rhonda McDonald resigned in February for health reasons but still serves as a board member and treasurer.

“[McDonald] encouraged me. She said ‘you’ve been a part of this, and you’re dedicated, you’ve never stopped, so put in for it,’” Truman said. “And I really honestly wasn’t expecting to get the position. I’m very thankful that I did.”

Truman said so far, the work is keeping her busy. There are a lot of phone calls, she said.

“They want to know why it hasn’t been done yet or where their status is,” she said.

Truman said the committee has teamed up with West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, West Virginia Catholic Charities disaster services and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The organizations are dividing the Clay County case load between them.

“We know that they have a lot more resources than we do,” she said.

Early on, the committee had an adversarial relationship with VOAD and director Jenny Gannoway. A former committee director said Gannoway bullied her and that a case manager took case files from the committee. Gannoway denied any wrongdoing and said VOAD follows “the highest standards of disaster relief and recovery approved by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.”

Truman said now that relationship has been smoothed out and people are working together.

“I have that mindset that I’m not me, I am Clay County,” Truman said. “They are Clay County. We are stronger as one. I’ve had that mindset from day one, and I’ve never understood the animosity and the territory.”

An email to VOAD went unanswered this week.

Lora Pierce, director of Catholic Charities disaster services, said for whatever reason, there was conflict at the beginning. While she said she doesn’t fault the people who were working for the committee prior to now, “I will say that I believe there are more people getting served now than there have been in the past,” Pierce said.

She continued, “I would say that the [Greater Clay Long-term Recovery Committee] is certainly on the right road. I’m not saying they’re good now and were not before. It’s good to continue to partner with them to serve the families.”

Pierce said case managers are still identifying people in Clay and other counties who need help and haven’t gotten it yet. Many people don’t know organizations like the long term recovery committees exist, she said.

Truman said the LTRC is focusing on getting repairs to HVAC and septic systems as well as underpinning.

“Those are things that we can do here in this office,” she said. “We have the resources to take care of those because we have the installers already. We have a licensed and insured septic installer.”

The committee and the staff are settling into its new office, located at 682 Main St. in downtown Clay. The office had been at a space on Ivydale Road. Truman said rent is cheaper at the new space, which is as big as the former office. The older space was four miles out of town and people sometimes missed it and drove right by, she said.

Truman said she wants people to know the committee is still there to help people, even some who FEMA denied.

“Because if FEMA denied them but their next-door neighbor got a lot of money, then we’re going to assume that they got some kind of damage,” she said. “It’s just inevitable.”

She encourages people to come to the monthly meetings of the LTRC, which are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 13 at the office.

Truman said it breaks her heart to come across families that have spent money from their 401K or retirement to make repairs to their homes because they’re too proud to come to the committee for help.

“There’s no reason to be proud,” Truman said. “That flood wasn’t your fault.”

For more information on the LTRC, see their website, http://www.greaterclaywv.org/.

Reach Lori Kersey at

lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1240 or follow

@LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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