By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
What could Hurricane Ian, the Ukraine war, or the Uvalde school shooting possibly have in common? Global Empowerment Mission (GEM) and its team of volunteers, founded by a Miami resident and its headquarters in Doral, have been present.
This non-profit organization provides humanitarian aid on various fronts to individuals around the world who have been affected by any type of disaster.
Since this year has been marked by a significant number of disasters that have impacted the lives of millions of people around the world and for whom the support of organizations like this one has been key, in this Thanksgiving edition, Doral Family Journal wants to thank GEM and its team of volunteers for their valuable work.
Although we know there are many organizations that this year have provided support to disaster victims and their efforts have been notorious, on this occasion we want to praise the work of this one in particular because it has covered a large number of disasters and is a good example of the positive impact that can be created in the midst of adversity.
In 2022 alone, GEM has provided humanitarian aid to those affected by hurricanes Lisa, Ian and Fiona, the floods in Pakistan and the southeastern United States, the fires in California, Europe, New Mexico, Arizona and the Bronx, the tornado in Kansas, the Uvalde school shooting and the crisis in Ukraine.
Much more than humanitarian aid
Global Empowerment Mission was founded in 2011 by Michael Capponi following the 2010 Haiti earthquake. This disaster served as an inspiration for establishing the organization after Capponi, who was working in the area, observed first-hand some inefficiencies in the humanitarian aid received by the population of that country.
This is how an organization that operates under an efficient and far-reaching work model was born. “We don’t mobilize a large number of international staff for each disaster as some organizations do because that depletes resources since volunteers and workers need lodging, food and plane tickets,” explains Emily Fullner, COO (Chief Operations Officer) of GEM.
GEM works with people living in the disaster area in order to save resources and respond quickly. “We bring humanitarian aid to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time and for the least amount of money,” Fullner says is the organization’s motto.
To achieve this, it establishes alliances with schools, churches, governments and local companies that are in charge of finding volunteers and collecting donations. Since its allies are involved in the operation and know the elements and needs of the disaster area better than GEM, response times are faster.
A good example of the effectiveness of this model is what happened with Hurricane Ian, for which an alliance was established with a local church in the first 24 hours after it hit land.
In this way, the community of Fort Myers was helped by hundreds of volunteers from the beginning of the disaster without having to wait for out-of-the-country or of the state help. The result: 194 people located in temporary housing.
“There are always more than enough people willing to help their local community, so we focus on empowering those individuals who usually know how to mobilize their people,” says Fullner.
But its work model is not the only thing in which GEM makes a difference, as it also does so with the type of help it provides, which does not end when donations are sent or victims are rescued. The work of this organization is much more extensive and is distributed in three phases.
In the first one, an immediate response to the disaster is given. First, a recognition and evaluation of the disaster is carried out, as well as a process of search, rescue and loss mitigation. Lastly, alliances are created with other companies to collect donations and assemble kits with items such as socks, hygiene products and everything needed to survive after losing it all.
During the second phase, victims are cared for in a more complete way once they have received vital aid after the disaster. In this period, they are given cash cards for short-term contingencies, temporary housing and shelter, or basic supplies.
Finally, in the third phase, long-term sustainable development practices are put into motion in coordination with governments and public-private partners. The goal behind this is to create a self-sufficient and prosperous community through the construction of permanent housing and infrastructure, and repairs to homes, schools, and hospitals, among other initiatives.
South Florida has the best volunteers
The satisfaction that the organization experiences with its work would not be possible without the effort made every day by volunteers who donate time and money for the benefit of the most vulnerable.
They are present in every town where tragedy arrives, because even in a world in which there is a lot of indifference, it is always possible to find empathetic and supportive people. These qualities, according to Fullner, are visible within the South Florida community.
“Of all the places in the world where we have been, the communities of Miami and South Florida stand out as being among the most generous and those that most recognize they have the ability to help others in times of crisis and do not hesitate in doing so. For this reason, we have chosen Doral as our headquarters,” says Fullner. The organization has two other offices: one in kyiv (Ukraine) and another one in Warsaw (Poland).
The one in Doral has administrative offices, a donation storage warehouse and an assembly space where volunteers classify and pack boxes with basic necessities. It is in our city where everything begins and that is why in the highest peaks of the disaster they receive volunteers and dispatch trucks with donations every day.
“It’s been really amazing, particularly because of Hurricane Ian, to see how different local organizations want to get involved in some way, whether it’s helping produce family supply boxes or making donations. Our local support coalition is becoming very strong,” says Fullner. For Hurricane Ian, more than 40 truckloads of donations have been sent to the affected areas.
Among the local organizations that have been involved in disaster relief efforts is Florida Blue, which on its first volunteer day, which took place in the second week of October, arrived at the Doral offices with 30 volunteers who managed to pack 400 boxes bound for Fort Myers.
“For us it is very important to help our community, especially in an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Ian. We were analyzing for a long time which organization we wanted to associate with and GEM seemed to us the best option among other things because our office is also in Doral,” says Fiorella Smyth from the corporate social responsibility area.
The most wonderful thing for her, who leads this partnership and was in charge of putting together the team of volunteers, was that far from having to force or motivate company employees to volunteer, the opposite happened. “Just 10 minutes after sending an email, 30 people had already responded.”
One of them was Ivy Patron, who felt the urge of helping the Fort Myers community because, having been affected by Hurricane Maria herself on its path through Puerto Rico, she knows very well how difficult life can be in the days following a disaster.
“I had no water or electricity for months and that is why now I count my blessings, and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to help those who are going through the same thing. They need to be comfortable and not cold or hungry, especially when there are children at home.”
Those who want to support the great work that GEM does with donations or volunteer work can visit its office located at 1850 NW 84th Ave, Suite 100 or call 800-995-7604. Here’s to more stories of positive impact in our community!