Orthodox Christian Emergency Network Grows to 100 Members

June 2014

Chicago, IL (IOCC) — When seven people were killed and thirteen injured in a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, on May 23, Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges, who serves as volunteer Chaplain with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and a member of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Frontline, consoled families as he performed the difficult task of notifying them of the loss of their loved ones. As Fr. Jon-Stephen, assistant pastor of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Goleta, California, comforted surviving family members, Jennifer Ferraez, an Orthodox Christian clinical social worker from the Isla Vista community, travelled to Chicago to participate in training to become one of the newest members of the IOCC Frontline.

The tragedy in Isla Vista underscored the need for an Orthodox Christian response in times of disaster and emergencies. “It was hard to leave the community during this time, but it reiterates that we need to be doing this together as Orthodox Christians. The need will be ongoing well after the initial shock wears off,” said Ferraez who anticipates providing support and debriefing for people who were directly and indirectly affected from the community. “Throughout the past week, every subject during the training related to the crisis we’re facing in Isla Vista.”

The IOCC Emergency Response Network, or Frontline, is a volunteer network of highly trained, credentialed and experienced Orthodox clergy and laity who respond to man-made and natural disasters in the United States.

Nineteen Orthodox Christians gathered to become part of the IOCC Frontline at a new member training in Chicago last week. The newest Frontline members join 83 clergy and lay volunteers who already serve as part of this national network to bring the total to more than 100 Orthodox Christians trained to respond across the country’s ten Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. Forty-five of the previously trained members joined the new Frontline volunteers for continued training at the end of the week.

“Keep going, you are doing important work. This is an important witness to the world by Orthodox Christians,” affirmed Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas to IOCC Frontline members who gathered with IOCC Executive Director Constantine Triantafilou for a prayer service and dinner on the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord at the Archdiocesan Center. Archbishop Nicolae also serves as the Episcopal Liaison between the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America and IOCC.

The Frontline members also received blessings from Bishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago who praised the group for their work to “minister to the Lazaruses on our doorsteps right here in the United States.” He also conveyed the greetings and blessings of Metropolitan Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. Bishop Peter of Cleveland of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia also offered his personal encouragement to the group.

Underwritten by a two-year grant from the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the training is part of an IOCC initiative to develop a volunteer network to provide a regional response capacity to disasters in the United States, and to better coordinate with local, state and federal disaster response agencies.

IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Since its inception in 1992, IOCC has delivered $488 million in relief and development programs to families and communities in more than 50 countries. IOCC is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 140 churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy. To learn more about IOCC, please visit our website at www.iocc.org.

Media contact: Rada K. Tierney, IOCC Media Relations, 443-823-3489, rtierney@iocc.org