|Alice Marie Graham , Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force|
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Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force
Purpose Prize Fellow 2011
In her haste to answer the cry for help after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, pastoral counselor Alice Marie Graham broke a promise she had made to herself more than 50 years before, when fellow Chicagoan Emmett Till (a black male teen accused of flirting with a white woman) was murdered in Mississippi: to never set foot in the state.
Yet her experiences providing counseling to Mississippians devastated by Katrina proved so profound that she felt a real calling to continue her work there. So in 2009 Graham moved to the state she once swore she’d never visit to become executive director of the Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force.
The task force was formed in 1980 as a short-term resource for people after Hurricane Frederick. When Katrina hit in 2005, the task force played a major role in coordinating the huge response of government agencies, faith-based groups and a million volunteers. Today it operates year-round to prepare for future disasters by developing partnerships between spiritual and secular recovery organizations. Graham created a system of Congregation Disaster Coordinators to act as bridges between myriad services – practical, emotional, medical, spiritual – that disaster victims need.
The idea for the network grew from Graham’s experiences soon after Katrina. “These experiences influenced my planning in developing programs,” Graham says. “The relationships that I developed with pastors convinced me of the important role that congregations play in facilitating recovery and resiliency.”