The following article appeared as a National Member Highlight in the January 2014 issue of VOAD Vision, the newsletter for the National Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster



We would like to extend a special thank you to ACTS World Relief in helping facilitate our trip to the Philippines, it would not have been possible without their assistance.

Headwaters Relief Organization Supports Long-Term Recovery, Mental Health Services to Disaster Survivors

by Cheryl Vennerstrom, COO of Headwaters Relief Organization.

Headwaters Relief Organization is a disaster relief collaboration of volunteers that supports the emotional and housing rehabilitation needs of families and communities after disasters.

The organization – a Member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster – began providing disaster relief in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The initial response was to assist with gutting and interior debris clean up, then re-build.

In 2007, Headwaters volunteers committed to long-term support of the Ninth Ward community, opening a walk-in mental health resource center. The resource center offers free counseling, referral to other resources if needed and community education to those who might not otherwise have access to mental health support.

Headwaters has since expanded our vision of mental health support and provides tele-counseling provided for disaster survivors by licensed professional staff who volunteer their time. This service is facilitated through a collaboration with other community partners.

While continuing to expand and develop services in Louisiana, Headwaters also expanded its work to communities affected by natural disasters within the upper Midwest five state region – including Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin – becoming a partner in each state’s VOAD, in addition to the Louisiana VOAD. Headwaters became a National VOAD thereafter.

The organization began working in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Early work in Haiti was focused on mental health support for children in Haitian orphanages and schools. Support was provided to the affected children and their caregivers. Headwaters continues to support several schools and orphanages in Haiti.

Volunteers travel to Haiti regularly to assist in purchasing food and to bring clothing and school supplies. The organization also is assisting with development and supply procurement for the self-sustaining industries being developed in that nation.

Headwaters recently received a request to send mental health support with first responders to Tacloban, Phillipines. Volunteers went to perform desperately needed relief work in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Members of the group traveled with medical teams to several remote villages in the Tacloban area – often visiting two or more areas a day – working alongside the doctors and nurses who triaged many of the sick and injured victims. Headwaters volunteers provided much needed psychological support and education to parents, children and first responders.

The mission of Headwaters is to bring together volunteers, skilled trades people, and mental health professionals to assist in a community’s short- and long-term rebuilding efforts. The mental health volunteers – including case managers, licensed counselors, licensed social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurses and psychologists – have expertise in trauma response and working in disasters.

Headwaters volunteers also are experienced in assisting with all aspects of property clean up, engaging in re-building with leadership from several partner construction companies.

In more recent years, Headwaters has responded to local and national disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and tsunamis. All of the administrative work of the organization is provided by volunteers. One hundred percent of all donations to Headwaters directly goes to the people being served.

Headwaters appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with other disaster relief organizations through VOAD partnerships.