“Gifts of Spirit and Caregiving” - Peter Gudaitis on Faith Leadership and Disaster Response

September 10, 2016



MaggiVan Dorn talks with Peter Gudaitis

In the wake of the 9/11tragedy fifteen years ago, an organization called New York Disaster InterfaithServices (NYDIS) came together to coordinate disaster relief.  Since thattime, NYDIS has grown and gone on to provide relief after Hurricane Sandy andother 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 coordinatingdisaster relief in a city comprised of hundreds of separate cultural and faithcommunities, and how to train religious leaders to provide emergency responseto a multi-faith population. 


On the current state ofnational disaster relief: "Inthe United States, when a disaster happens, only citizens and green cardholders can get federal disaster assistance… you could be in legal immigrantstatus but not qualify for federal assistance or state assistance."

On the importance of religious diversity literacy: "Is the city prepared to feed [peoplevegetarian, halal or kosher meals]?  Do our medical professionalsunderstand the prohibitions against different genders touching one another? Doour shelters have the ability to shelter men and women separately, or women andchildren separately from men? The answer today quite frankly is no."

On recent advancements in disaster relief: Sincethe Obama administration, F.E.M.A. has adopted something called whole communitydoctrine, which in short means that government needs to be prepared to supportthe needs of all communities at the local level, and not just the majority …that means marginalized communities, non-English speaking communities, thepoor, the well-resourced … men, women, children, gay communities, straightcommunities, all of that."

On the unfortunate reportsof judgmental chaplains at the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting: "If you don’t see the personyou’re caring for as a whole person, if you see the part of them that you findsinful as something that you have to make some sort of navigating decisionsaround, you’re not fully present for that person, and they’re going to be ableto tell."

On disaster chaplains: "Disaster spiritual care isan expertise that has to be taught and learned and practiced … it’s not a giftof the spirit in and of itself.  Certainly since 9/11 there have beensignificant changes in the application of emotional and spiritual care … it'sbeen more structured … it's kind of like the distinction between graduatingfrom medical school and being a brain surgeon.  You might have the basicsbut you really have to develop and practice an expertise."

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