Bernard receives Dedication Award at Louisiana Emergency Management Conference

Published 12:21 am Thursday, May 18, 2023

LAKE CHARLES — Pastor Neil Bernard, chair of the St. John Long Term Recovery Group, received the Dedication Award during the Louisiana Emergency Management Conference in recognition of his service, demonstrated perseverance, and unfailing assistance to the community.

Co-hosted by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association, the conference was held May 8-11 in Lake Charles to provide education, outreach and training related to emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.

Bernard was nominated for the Dedication Award by Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot, the long term recovery liaison for Volunteer Louisiana. She described Bernard as “THE reason” that LaPlace has been able to piece itself back together in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“He is the most organized, respectful, humble and aggressive servant of the people I met in my travels around the state attending numerous long term recovery meetings post Ida,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “He has created partnerships with large and small corporations, businesses, church groups and organizations to solidify the rebuild process in his parish.”

In a letter addressed to the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association Award Committee, Jessica Vermilyea of Haphak Consulting said Bernard is admired for his ability to lead and push recovery forward. She added that Bernard has set a standard for others to model.

“St. John’s Long Term Recovery Group has been one of the few Long Term Recovery Groups that has had strong participation by local government, business and non-profit partners, and much of that is due to Pastor Bernard’s leadership and tenacity to ensure that St. John’s community and survivors do not go forgotten,” she said. “It is largely due to his leadership and advocacy for resources that St. John has benefited from the having the successful Long Term Recovery Group and community recovery that it does.”

According to Bernard, the St. John Long Term Recovery Group has closed out cases for 85% to 90% of the families who requested help following Hurricane Ida. Of the original 900+ cases filed, approximately 150 remain active.

“Since Hurricane Ida, 5,368 volunteers from over 42 states and six countries have come into St. John Parish and worked on nearly 400 homes in our community. All of them come on their own dime. We’ve had college groups, emergency response organizations, church groups,” Bernard said. “Volunteers really are the life blood of any recovery, and one of the secrets to St. John’s successful recovery has been the thousands of volunteers who have come to assist us in a time of need.”

In addition to assisting with home repairs and providing building materials, the Long Term Recovery Group has distributed roughly 2 million pounds of relief goods and equipment, food and cleaning supplies.

Volunteers have dwindled as the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida approaches. Using funding provided through St. John United Way, a construction group has been hired to complete repairs on the remaining households. Crews are working on homes on the East Bank and West Bank of St. John Parish Monday through Friday to wrap up recovery efforts.

Bernard has also been involved in making New Wine Christian Fellowship a Community Lighthouse. Starting next Monday, solar panels will be installed to increase resiliency during storms and allow the church to serve the community, unhindered, when the lights go out. When power fails during emergency events, New Wine will be a beacon of light offering charging stations/small battery distribution, food preparation/distribution, cooling/heating stations, and oxygen exchange and small medical equipment.

Bernard was grateful to be recognized during the Louisiana Emergency Management Conference, although he clarified that long term recovery is not a one-man effort.

“It confirms that here in St. John we have a great team of people who are part of the St. John Long-Term Recovery Group in times of emergency and times of disaster,” Bernard said. “We are extremely humbled and blessed by that award, and we are glad that we can serve as an example to the rest of the state on how to respond to communities in times of disaster.”