PODCAST: “Gifts of Spirit and Caregiving” – Peter Gudaitis on Faith Leadership and Disaster Response
Maggi Van Dorn talks with Peter Gudaitis
In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy fifteen years ago, an organization called New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) came together to coordinate disaster relief. Since that time, NYDIS has grown and gone on to provide relief after Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. In this episode of our free podcast series “NYC Faith Leaders,” Maggi Van Dorn talks with Peter B. Gudaitis, Chief Response Officer of NYDIS, about the challenges of coordinating disaster relief in a city comprised of hundreds of separate cultural and faith communities, and how to train religious leaders to provide emergency response to a multi-faith population.
On the current state of national disaster relief: “In the United States, when a disaster happens, only citizens and green card holders can get federal disaster assistance… you could be in legal immigrant status but not qualify for federal assistance or state assistance.”
On the importance of religious diversity literacy: “Is the city prepared to feed [people vegetarian, halal or kosher meals]? Do our medical professionals understand the prohibitions against different genders touching one another? Do our shelters have the ability to shelter men and women separately, or women and children separately from men? The answer today quite frankly is no.”
On recent advancements in disaster relief: Since the Obama administration, F.E.M.A. has adopted something called whole community doctrine, which in short means that government needs to be prepared to support the needs of all communities at the local level, and not just the majority … that means marginalized communities, non-English speaking communities, the poor, the well-resourced … men, women, children, gay communities, straight communities, all of that.”
On the need for non-judgmental disaster spiritual care following the Orlando Pulse Nightclub Shooting: “If you don’t see the person you’re caring for as a whole person, if you see the part of them that you find sinful as something that you have to make some sort of navigating decisions around, you’re not fully present for that person, and they’re going to be able to tell.”
On disaster chaplains: “Disaster spiritual care is an expertise that has to be taught and learned and practiced … it’s not a gift of the spirit in and of itself. Certainly since 9/11 there have been significant changes in the application of emotional and spiritual care … it’s been more structured … it’s kind of like the distinction between graduating from medical school and being a brain surgeon. You might have the basics but you really have to develop and practice an expertise.”
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