How to Get Federally Declared Disaster Assistance Through FEMA with Cherry Jochum



“Your despair is real…. If you don’t get the answers you want, appeal. Ask the right people and keep asking till you get to the right person.”  -Cherry Jochum



Signed by President Jimmy Carter, Executive Order 12127 established the Federal Emergency Management Agency, widely known as FEMA, as the primary agency in charge of emergency management and civil defense. Among its many functions, FEMA also manages disaster assistance funds, from which many families and organizations have benefited. Still, in desperate times, many people can’t help but ask why the process takes too long and what makes it complicated. 

In this episode, we are joined by FEMA’s Interagency Recovery Coordination Lead and Recovery Funding Advisor, Cherry Jochum to answer some of the questions that have puzzled many for years. Cherry explains the structure, function, and limitations of the agency and the roles that FEMA plays during a disaster. Jennifer and Cherry also talk about the behind-the-scenes before a declaration is approved, leveraging funds and every resource possible, and the responsibility of each community in leading their recovery. Securing funds during a disaster is really challenging, but your persistence will pay off. Don’t give up just yet! Tune in and  learn how you can get federally declared disaster assistance from FEMA.





  • 01:59: By Necessity, Not Design
  • 08:50: The Life of a Reservist
  • 12:55: The Limitations of FEMA
  • 17:43: Behind the Scenes of FEMA Approved Declaration 
  • 23:09: The Role of Foundations
  • 32:12: Matching and Leveraging Funds
  • 38:28 Appeal






04:58: “Many people get into this work by virtue of necessity and not by design, and in some ways that can be really helpful.” -Jennifer Thompson

08:13: “The government is people.” -Jennifer Thompson

13:32: “There’s an expectation that the government is here to make you whole. And that’s the opposite of what we do…. It’s just impossible to put everyone where they were.” -Cherry Jochum 

17:06: “Communities have to lead and design their own response and recovery in a way that’s most relevant for their community.” -Jennifer Thompson

17:49: “The declaration approved by the president has to exceed the resources of the state. And that’s not always the case. There’s a lot to be met so it isn’t an arbitrary process.” -Cherry Jochum  

21:36: “Private funding is the key to all of this. The government can’t do everything.” -Cherry Jochum

32:51: “You’re going to need help. You need a recovery manager and additional staff.  They can’t write the grant but you could certainly have them working on launching and implementing. Use every resource possible.” -Cherry Jochum 

34:34: “It’s just so incredibly difficult to recover and rebuild when you don’t have capacity at the county or city level.” -Jennifer Thompson

38:30: “Your despair is real…. If you don’t get the answers you want, appeal. Ask the right people and keep asking till you get to the right person.”  -Cherry Jochum 

39:28: “It is not necessarily a ‘No’ until you’ve asked at least three times. And you have a right to also know the why of the ‘No’.” -Jennifer Thompson


Meet Cherry:

Cherry works closely with State agencies, Counties, Federal, and private partners building relationships in pursuit of a successful and expedient recovery. Her focus is on identifying potential resources ranging from the financial, technical, and materiel, that when combined, help strengthen the State’s capacity for recovery and resilience. Cherry is adept at propelling relationships and inspiring collaborations across organizations. She has extensive experience with FEMA, disaster response and recovery, program support, implementation, and execution. Cherry’s professional background includes executive search recruiting, fundraising, grant program management, marketing, research, event planning, nonprofit and government administration, hospitality, and entrepreneurship.

Connect with FEMA: 



Jennifer Gray Thompson: My name is Jennifer Gray Thompson, and I am the CEO of After the Fire. Welcome to the podcast, How to Disaster, recover, rebuild and reimagine. It is podcast, we bring you the very best practices, best hearts and great ideas from other disaster affected communities. Thank you for joining us.

So I wanted to have Cherry Jochum today because I’ve been working in the field of disaster for four years, our anniversary is actually this October 8. And one of the really challenging things is like, how do you even begin to navigate these behemoth agencies? And then I was very fortunate to meet Cherry about a year into my tenure in this job. And one of the things that really struck me about her was how she really brings a very human element to what is often a mystifying and can even be processed in the middle of a trauma. And so I asked her here on our podcast today to talk to her as a colleague and as a friend, and how is it that she got into this work. I’d like her to tell us a little bit about her background, and then we’ll get into the actual day to day function of her job and how she performs sort of that very human work providing a bridge between a disaster recovery agency and the people who are directly affected. So once again, welcome to the podcast, Cherry.

Cherry Jochum: Thanks so much, Jennifer, I’m delighted to be here. I was very impressed when I met you as well, you were highly recommended. I think you were on some panels that I think it was Gladys Cook with the Florida Housing Coalition. So she was just, you have to meet this person. And so she wasn’t wrong. And so I continue to keep up with you on social and just really delighted to be here and to share my experiences in the disaster recovery world.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: So I’m hoping that you can actually share with our listeners about, how did you even get into what’s your story? How did you even get into this work?

Cherry Jochum: Well, what usually happens is that I’m a disaster survivor, and it was quite accidental. I actually owned, ran and launched an executive search firm. And so when Katrina hit, I’m in New Orleans native. I actually was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which is where the Joint Field Office, JFO, stood up as we call it in federal parlance. And I thought, well, why don’t I get a contract to do their hiring? Because certainly, there will be lots of hiring that will happen. So what happened is they called me to come interview and I was really in the dark about what was happening. Katrina was such a devastating disaster, it was huge. So what they hired me to do was to become a human resources manager, actually specialist, I’m sorry, not manager. And it was such an intense disaster that it was a 24/7 round the clock, and we all worked like 7/12, and that was the kind of commitment. So I always tell everyone, I didn’t see my children for a year because it’s pretty intense. So we did do an ordinate amount of hiring, you name it from logistics to engineers, it was so devastating to so many parishes. So that’s how I started, it was quite accidental. 

I wasn’t necessarily affected as most people were because I lived down the street from a hospital, what I did at the time, so we were on that electrical grid. I was inconvenienced rather than devastated. But it really was. I think it was just so astounded. For one thing, the FBI was on site to do fingerprinting, and I never been at a place in my life that you interviewed and they said, we’ll see what seven tomorrow morning. Wow, it was mind blowing. So it was an experience of a lifetime. Well, since I was hiring for all of the higher level folks was brought into what was in called ESF 14, the Emergency Support Function, which was a long term recovery. That was the section that was charged with the housing mission for setting up what they called at that time. This was 15, 16 years ago, because Katrina was in 2005. They had this vision because the management, the leadership that comes in and runs a disaster, the different sections, this ESF 14, they started what they called storefronts in each parish and it was staffed with planners and engineers because everything was affected in post Katrina, everything. [inaudible] had to be rebuilt to the tune of billions. The entire infrastructure of communities were just wiped out. Housing was gone. So that’s how I got my start.


“Many people get into this work by virtue of necessity and not by design, and in some ways that can be really helpful.” -Jennifer Thompson


Jennifer Gray Thompson: I’m amazed at how many people get into this work exactly. We sort of the same way by virtue of necessity and not by design. And in some ways, that can be really helpful. Like we don’t even hire people for After the Fire who haven’t been through a disaster. I know I tried that once and I was like, can’t train for it, can’t explain it. If you haven’t been through it, and it doesn’t, it’s not even that they have to have lost their home. It’s probably fortunate that you didn’t, because had you lost your home, how would you have had the capacity to serve seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It’s just remarkable. The interesting thing about Katrina too, when I was in graduate school, we definitely studied the changes in the federal government response, post Hurricane Katrina. And so from your perspective, just watching how disaster has changed over the last 16 years in your participation, especially with wind and rain, what changes have you seen that are most striking to you?

Cherry Jochum: Well, I think in my view, I see a lot of changes socially, culturally. And also, we’re saying that there’s no longer an elephant in the room, we are saying what it is, it’s climate change. There’s no way that I’m going to have to stop raining in Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, where we are. I mean, it’s been raining here. Have been here for two weeks, it just hasn’t stopped raining, and this is unusual. Look at Louisiana and the adjacent states, will they even be there? I wonder in a couple of years. And so I see that changing. Although the administration changes and FEMA, culturally, they’re very responsive. So as we see in the rest of the country where the buzzwords are equity, and fairness, and reaching marginalized folks, we’re looking at our policies and I see the administration really taking that to heart. I mean, there’s a lot happening internally that I think everything from who is being hired, backgrounds, there’s a lot of sensitivity. I think that they’re no longer tolerating things that have been tolerated or where awareness wasn’t in the past. And we’re also looking at a sea of big movements to address inconsistencies, inequities and disaster distribution. How we work with folks? How we distribute disaster assistance? I think it’s real, it’s authentic, and they care about what they’re doing. So I’m happy to see that.


 “The government is people.” -Jennifer Thompson


Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that. I was actually so excited to see that in Southern Oregon, the Almeda Fire, FEMA went in to put in the transitional housing, that they made a commitment to actually leave the infrastructure, which is something that they had not done traditionally. But I feel like they’re in a space of willing to innovate, like different types of housing, different ways of actually responding to different types of disasters. So often we think of big agencies, we don’t always think about the people who actually make that agency. And people are like the government, this and the government that, one of our roles is to say, well, who do you think the government is? The government is people, and they are people who are often actually quite excellent. Maybe the system doesn’t always work. But in the case of FEMA, they actually have to be designed for 320 million people at a time. And so I wanted you to actually talk about, what it’s like to work in a place where you could be deployed easily for many, many months? I know that you live in Florida now, can you take us from your time in Baton Rouge working on Katrina, all the way to your current position? And what it is exactly that you do? What does that look like?

Cherry Jochum: Well, you’re right, it is disruptive to a family regardless of what kind of commitment or arrangements you make. It’s a perfect job for many levels of folks. I happen to be what is called a reservist, which means I am like the military. I’m called up to deploy when there’s a need and my expertise is requested. But I have to deploy anywhere, anytime, maybe in austere conditions. I was lucky to have a husband who works with me and accepts what I’ve been doing. He actually works for FEMA too now, but there were a lot of disruptions in our lives. We’ll say you’ve been gone for 15 years, and I say, well, not constantly because I didn’t leave FEMA at times and take other positions in these periods of these lows or what I had stepped away. 

But there are different types of employment with FEMA. We have permanent full-time. We have Corps which are cadre of on-call response employees, and then reservists like myself. So the Corps are almost like a full time with a two to four year with a chance to re up. And we have regions across the country, so you can really live anywhere as a reservist. You just have to agree to deploy at any time for extended periods of time. And I think the people that do it, they really are committed, or you wouldn’t be doing this because many, so there’s nothing that could keep me here, like monetarily. I don’t have those types of things going on. That don’t mean I don’t make money. It’s not a permanent situation, any day, but I feel like it’s something that you have a commitment to, that it just something you want to do because it isn’t for everyone. I think a lot of reservists come in and think they can do it. It’s not a full time job. It does hurt sometimes when you have to leave. We do that. We ramp up and we ramped down. You have to leave for you to go, and that’s tough for some people. Because then, a lot of us are in mourning because you really come to like or love your co-workers and you become a family.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think that that’s not uncommon for some of us who work in disaster that, my Mastiff is snoring. So if you hear or see her, okay, I’m just getting your head. Sorry to listening audience, but that’s part of the deal. I remember when we had our disaster and never been through that before, I’ve said this many times, but it was a really terrifying physical experience. It was the most remarkable human experience of my life. I think that part of the work that I’ve done since then is I do like revisiting that humanity. 

I remember that Lindsey Anderson who works for FEMA, she came out not under the auspices of FEMA, but she’s working for the University of Pittsburgh as their interim director. And she came out to do a podcast and interviewed me. And at the end of it, she said two things. She said, I should try to go work for FEMA. And I was like, why would FEMA want me? Honestly, that’s what I thought. And then the second thing was, is that I should read this book called A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit. It’s a series of essays about how people actually respond in disaster to each other. We’re often sold the idea that when something bad happens, we all like grab our guns and we go into our basements. Like that very dystopian. But in my experience, with the exception of moments of COVID, that’s actually the opposite. That if we have something we share, we share whatever it is. And I’m wondering, how that factors into you, the decision, or the culture of the people that you work with. When you walk into these communities, they’re most vulnerable and you’re able to be hopefully a light for them or something to grab onto. Can you talk about that dynamic?


“There’s an expectation that the government is here to make you whole. And that’s the opposite of what we do…. It’s just impossible to put everyone where they were.” -Cherry Jochum


Cherry Jochum: I think you’re right. I think for the most part, they are grateful, they need help, they’re breastfeeding their last straw. This is so traumatic, and like nothing, it’s a death a million times over. A lot of times, they’ve lost everything, maybe friends and family, their animals. It’s unfathomable. I think sometimes, we get one of the things we’re working on. We get further into this, the process, the administrative application part can take so much longer than that when you see a change in people. There’s an expectation that the government is here to make you whole, and that’s the opposite of what we do. The simplest thing I can say is, these are our tax, all of our tax dollars at work, and it’s just impossible to put everyone, just reset and put everyone where they were before the weather, event or the disaster happened. But I think for the most part, everyone who works for FEMA, the disaster survival assistance folks, the individual assistance folks who are out there in the field, they are doing their best. We still have policies and regulations, and you can imagine things we were able to do before that we’re not able to do now for instance. 

Let me just do, well, like an analogy. We still have laws and regulations even though we’re breaking down those barriers, but we can’t go get expired food. It can feed tons of people, and it doesn’t mean the food is bad, but laws prevent us from doing that. And to everyone’s discredit, we still have hunger. I would say in the same ways, FEMA is kind of hamstrung. But because of laws and regulations that aren’t necessarily of our doing, right? So we still persist and pursue a leaving human suffering to the best of our abilities and with the parameters we have to work within. I mean, that’s the best way I can say it.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think that’s a good way. I think that people don’t always necessarily, until a disaster hits you, you’ve never needed FEMA and also your state agency, whatever that looks like. In our case, it’s Cal OES working with FEMA. And it’s always very surprising. And the thing is that a lot of the rules that came about, maybe they don’t make sense, but they were usually made in response to some kind of situation, or fraud, or there was something came up in the policy fix was meant to mitigate the chance of fraud and to increase accountability. But at the same time, there does come a point where it removes a lot of the creativity that’s actually required in disaster. And people look, they look towards one agency and they say, well, I don’t understand why it’s like that. And I my responses, my guess is something happened. And the reason why the government is slowly, is because at some point, something happened. And people and somebody said, oh, someone should do something about that. And they did. And it slowed down the process or put in more checks and balances. That’s always the one of the struggles of a federal government that serves so many different types of communities, which is, how do you create policy for the entire country that doesn’t always work in certain areas? And I think that that’s one of the things, and I know I’m going on and on. 


“Communities have to lead and design their own response and recovery in a way that’s most relevant for their community.” -Jennifer Thompson


But the other thing I noticed in our disaster was I’d gone to graduate school in public administration, like we had studied FEMA, but I had never been through a disaster so I didn’t know, and then when we lost 6000 units of housing the first night, it looked like a bomb went off and everything was different from the night before in our lives. I looked around, I was like, oh, well, calvary will show up. And until then, I will do what I need to do. I’ll figure, I’ll listen for the needs, and then they’ll tell me what to do. And then like three days from [inaudible], I don’t think they’re coming. And it wasn’t a FEMA issue, it was that communities actually have to serve, they have to fill in this huge space that is purposefully left for them to lead and design their own response and recovery in a way that’s most relevant for that community. FEMA roles to come in about 72 hours later, and then provide some federal resources. A lot of people also don’t understand why FEMA isn’t declared right away in any kind of disaster. I see a lot of confusion about that. So if you could address, what are the triggers for you to be deployed in your area?


“The declaration approved by the president has to exceed the resources of the state. And that’s not always the case. There’s a lot to be met so it isn’t an arbitrary process.” -Cherry Jochum


Cherry Jochum: Well, the triggers for my deployment, but let me backup to your point, your point about, so the declaration approved by the president has to exceed the resources of the state, and that’s not always the case. So there’s a lot of checks and balances, and thresholds and minimums that have to be met. So it isn’t a arbitrary process there. Unfortunately, people aren’t able to see what’s behind the scenes, how that happens. So you do get your leadership on the ground in the field, and then they’ll determine what will stand up. What are we going to erect here? What is needed? Is it individual assistance? Is it public assistance for facilities and emergency measures? And this is how this happens. And then if the state requests, or sees a need for what I’m in, I’m in  the Integrative Recovery Coordination–

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And do you want to define that? Because a lot of people who listened to this podcast, I mean, not a lot of people listen to, let’s be honest. But the people who do, congratulations if you are listening, I love you.

Cherry Jochum: So Integrated Recovery Coordination is working with my team or my group from the national disaster recovery support cadre. We work with other federal partners to help manage the resources and respond to the disaster, but we also integrate internally. So there’s public assistance that section or sector, there’s hazard mitigation, there’s individual assistance that takes care of human needs, individuals and households. There is, like I said, hazard mitigation, public assistance for facilities, buildings, parks, some eligible nonprofits. So we work internally, and that’s a big deal. A lot of places are many organizations have sections within them that are siloed. So we’re working really hard to break that down. So my team works internally to integrate, and then we work externally, and that’s with federal partners, HHS, the Housing and Urban Development, Department of Interior, USDA, every federal agency that you can think of so that we can identify resources from that organization, from that federal government agency and try to get it to the communities that need their technical assistance, dollars, their assistance. We also work directly with state. We are here at the request of the state. So there’s a recovery support function field coordinator from the federal agencies that work with their counterpart from the state. 

So when we bring in these RSS, one of which comes from the Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, they will work with whatever it’s called it, California and Florida, it’s the Department of Economic Opportunity, every agent, every state has a different name. So those state Feds and locals all work together. And then FEMA has a Federal Coordinating Officer. And if we are brought in for the long term recovery to assist them, because it’s their vision, we just help them design and execute what they see their vision for recovery. We bring in mitigation help to bring in resiliency resources, all in cooperation and coordination with our federal and state partners, and then local nonprofits, foundations. 


“Private funding is the key to all of this. The government can’t do everything.” -Cherry Jochum


So one of the areas of working really hard to not infiltrate, but to bring in and work with his foundations. Because private funding is really the key to all of this. Government can’t do everything. I feel as though in some of us do, that there’s a place for foundations, we can bring the unmet needs, and they’re vetted is how I look at it. When we talk to a foundation, we can say that we’re not showing favoritism to say, the California fires, but we already know that here’s what’s missing, and this is where you can fill in that gap. And so that’s what we try to do. Help leverage the funding. If FEMA can pay for something, why don’t we try to leverage it? Maybe some gap fundings needed. So I think we play a really important part. But collectively, we all will.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I want to get into that pretty significantly. First, we’re going to take a quick break for our sponsor, Fire Safe Signs. We’ll be right back with Cherry Jochum. Thank you.

All right, so welcome back once again to the podcast, How to Disaster. Our guest today is a friend and colleague, Cherry Jochum. I wanted to actually dive a little more deeply into the role of foundations and sort of, because I know that, so when we were founded as a foundation in 2017, the idea was that we would do some grant making, but after you really you’re one. And when everybody has sort of exited the markets, when you have a massive disaster, a lot of, I would say stakeholders and actors, they rush in. And then about 12 months post disaster for the most part, they’re gone. If FEMA will remain, your local, your county, or your commissioner, or the commissioner’s office, they will remain, the state will remain, and united policyholders is usually still there. In our case on the west coast is to help with insurance. 

But for the most part, and people exit the market, we have been tutoring and sort of mentoring other areas to help them lead a community, led and designed recovery by doing sort of mentoring and almost like a leadership academy. But we see continuously a huge gap in philanthropy, private philanthropy on our coast anyway has been extraordinarily slow to actually come into the market of disaster. They’re interested in mitigation, and I appreciate that we have an entire part of our organization called, Before the Fire, and we love that because we’re hoping not to burn down like this forever. That’d be wonderful. We support that. We have federal and state funding for those programmes, but I’m often frustrated by the lack of support for all these people, essentially who have very worthy organizations and ideas often from emergent leaders, and there’s really very hard to get funding. So can you talk a little bit about that, or any advice that you would give to these organizations. We started with 2 million, so we were very fortunate in that way. And it allowed us actually learn how to stand ourselves up post disaster, but I don’t have that 2 million to give to other organizations, and all I can give them is our experience.

Cherry Jochum: Talk to MacKenzie Scott.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Do you want me to?

Cherry Jochum: Actually, I would say, we are making inroads. We are talking to foundations. We were called philanthropic or philanthropy funding advisors, philanthropy advisors some time ago. And now, we’re really called recovery funding. But we do have a mutual, have a relationship with the Council on foundations, their policy, they do a lot out of DC. So one of our lead federal disaster recovery officers is a member of the Council on foundations. They’re really important organization because I would say that they’re the preeminent organization speaking to government, following legislation, making a lot of helping to inform a lot of policy, and they’re connected with all of the foundation members around the country. So I think we’re trying to have that conversation. I don’t know that where is comfortable, I’m comfortable, because I come from a fundraising development background. But I think we haven’t made the case that if I’m going to show you your state’s fire, maybe if I share that with a foundation, am I showing some kind of preference? Or is there someone else, it’s not that at all. There were a lot of times, people will contact us, or an organization, or an agency and tell us of their concern. They’re desperate, they’re working in the community. And so that’s elevated to us. And then I call it quiet in for inquiries, which I’m saying, I’m not really asking this question because I can’t really compromise myself, but I don’t know that I necessarily agree. But then again, I do belong to this agency and represent this agency. Until it’s okay, but I’m still doing that, but as carefully and as diplomatically. Like I said, as carefully as I can.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Isn’t that really just the learning curve of it, though? I mean, I wanted to say so, sidebar, after I met Cherry, or you recommended to me, she started sending me for Florida, all of the like, you decipher all of the fun, and it’s all for floor. But I go through, no pun intended, and Cherry pick for years, I bet, oh, there’s an opportunity. Even though,, like I it’s true, I wouldn’t look at the state stuff. But your ability though to send out relevant links and explanations, and the highlighting, and the bold like that, I don’t know if you fully understand the power of that for somebody like me in a very small nonprofit with a big impact and a big mission to be able to just open up your email and be like curated. And it’s not even meant for me, it’s meant for people in Florida, but you put me on there because you know the value of your work. I have many times taken that information and sent it to our public sector partners because that’s a lot of it what it’s meant, it’s fine like USDA or local partners county lead supervisors and said that you should look into this. But I really, I don’t know if you really understand the value of that service, and it’s been a very big deal for me, so thank you.

Cherry Jochum: Oh, thank you so much. I have to share with you. I received an email when I was working in hurricane Michael in the early, I subsequently did hurricane Sally, and mean stuffing you, but you go on to another disaster, normally.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think Michael is, I think you’re the reason why FEMA to me out to [inaudible] post disaster.

Cherry Jochum: But they are delighted. So I received an email from a small county with maybe, and that’s the problem is capacity. They’re so under-resourced and she wrote and said, is really bittersweet. She says, thanks so much, mean so much to me. I can’t apply for any of these grants. So one person, her house is destroyed. She’s running a town. She’s probably handling the parks director, infrastructure. So anyway, but they have thanked me, and I know the value. I constantly make the case for myself, but I’m not the only one doing it. There’s several others. FEMA has this magic tracks recovery resource library and we’re working hard to sponsor foundations into their executive directors. You should be in on that. You were the best candidate to be in there. Those are curated and vetted all day long by, I call them maxtrax resource librarians.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I hired a librarian, actually professional to be our community to community programme director, Pamela Van Halsema, and specifically love her library inside because she knows how to vet information, share information and remain entirely human. And she’s also a virus survivor. And oh, my goodness, and she did our website too. So shout out to Pamela.

Cherry Jochum: Wow. Ten people at one.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: We all have it. I think that’s pretty common in disaster. I always say, I’m only limited by my capacity. Like I could easily run 100 people’s dog, and with the work that there needs to be done. But instead, I run five people pretty, pretty tough. We all have to wear a lot of hats, and that’s the deal. I’m absolutely not complaining, but I would, I do think we could be far more effective. A lot of these organizations could be more effective with capacity. Because just applying for a federal grant side notes last year, I had a person of note say to me, oh, Jen, you’re never going to get a federal grants, you’re just not. And I want to hear that person was. I was like, huh, watch me. And so then, we did. We got a USDA RCPP grant, and that’s really due to a staff member, Molly Curley O’Brien, who’s just very, very smart, very capable, working with RCDs to figure out this grant application, which also required though a match. And so it really often comes down to not only the capacity, but the match requirements. So can you talk about, can you give any advice to people who are listening to this podcast and they’re like, I don’t even know where to begin on how to do that process.


“You’re going to need help. You need a recovery manager and additional staff.  They can’t write the grant but you could certainly have them working on launching and implementing. Use every resource possible.” -Cherry Jochum


Cherry Jochum: That’s what we’re trying to put together. Usually, every disasters find technical assistance, grant resources. Because in my group, we don’t bring dollars. We’re not the public assistance staff for that funding, we don’t have a checkbook. What we have is we’re trying to corral and work with all of our partners and the foundation’s like I said. It’s not that they don’t do a lot, they do, but we would like to have input and help guide them. So we talked about matching and leveraging funds. That’s where it’s essential. I would say, connect immediately with a Regional Planning Council that writes grants, the universities, because you’re going to need help. Another good way that we’ve tried because we can’t get around that, you need a recovery manager, and you need additional staff. Look at AmeriCorps programmes, because they can’t write the grant, but you could certainly have them working on them work, have them launching and implementing. But use every resource possible. And we do try to help at FEMA, help you identify resources.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Is there a place that save someone, I can say you’re in Plumas County where we’re working in Greenville right now. We’re going to go up next Thursday. And so they have limited capacity, very small county, 15,000 people. Greenville was 900 people. It’s 90% gone, but they do care. They do want to rebuild, and so we will help them manage some of that. But is there like a single website that you can recommend to them to go to look for all of those resources, or am I dreaming?

Cherry Jochum: That you’re dreaming, but they can certainly, I think if there’s a planning council or commission that it’s a city or a town?


“It’s just so incredibly difficult to recover and rebuild when you don’t have capacity at the county or city level.” -Jennifer Thompson


Jennifer Gray Thompson: It’s not incorporated. But Plumas County is a county, a very rural county of about 15,000. Greenville sits inside of that county, there’s a bunch of small little towns without their own governance structures. And even their county supervisors, sometimes called county commissioners in other states all have full time jobs. This is not their full time job., so it’s extremely limited capacity. And we see that a lot. We’ve seen that a lot in Oregon. Really, a lot of our focus is on rural America here because it’s just so incredibly difficult to recover and rebuild when you don’t have capacity at the county or city level.

Cherry Jochum: I can’t say that there’s one site. I have to be frank with you because we’re still cracking that nut ourselves. There’s no one place that I can think of it’s coordinating with, I would say the county as far as the county, or a Regional Planning Commission, or council who provides grant writing resources. They may have a formal request process. And if you have identified a grant or maybe they can, we need to, here’s a capacity building, the building blocks EPA grant. Yes, something like that.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I don’t even think most people know though. I know that the EPA has grants. I don’t think most people know. I don’t think most people actually understand even the levels of government, and I’ve seen that over and over again. They don’t understand. The state is not the big sister or big brother of the county. And the federal government, except for certain things like civil rights laws or things like that is not the big brother. Federal government has been invited in, so the Dixie Fire is a perfect example. People who live in these very rural communities are often very, they want small to no government, right? But then you have a big disaster that hits and they are increasingly agitated and upset about, where is the big government to come in sort of fix this? Not even understanding that actually can often be predicated upon the capacity of your county commissioner, your county supervisor, and then at the state level. And because wildfires, it’s just weird, three quarters of a million acres before Dixie Fire was declared a federal disaster. Before it was requested formally by our governor and the senators, I’m not blaming anyone, there’s a process in place, and then it was approved within 24 hours, but people on the ground experiencing the disaster don’t understand that. I might have you do a video. How a bill becomes a law is really helpful for all of us. I feel like we need one on like how government works.

Cherry Jochum: I think we have that. I think there’s a brochure that talks about how, it’s for states, it talks about how disasters declare. I need to find that for you. I thought, wow, it’s a three fold and thought, that’s a lot.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: That’s actually there. We just downloaded the Brick Hand Handbook today to share it. It is only 27 pages. I’m actually going to read it because 27 pages is way better than 300 pages. So we only have a few minutes left. I feel like it’s gone by so quickly.

Cherry Jochum: It has.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I know. Well, Cherry, from the very beginning when I first started this podcast, you were on my mind. I was like, I have met some of the most amazing people in this work, and I feel like I want to introduce them to the world. You’re part of me with COVID, was worried like, what if we weren’t, we didn’t become After the Fire, how can I sort of memorialize all of these really amazing people that I’ve met along the way? I definitely include you in that group of people who are disaster professionals who have dedicated their lives to those who bring very much a human. Not only human element, but a particular competency to the work that is probably under appreciated outside of this room. I don’t think people really understand how hard that is. If you were going to leave us with a few tips, or ideas, or inspiration for people who’ve just recently experienced a disaster, what would those be?


“Your despair is real…. If you don’t get the answers you want, appeal. Ask the right people and keep asking till you get to the right person.”  -Cherry Jochum


Cherry Jochum: Well, I think I would say, I know your despair is real, it’s horrific. I don’t know that there’s much anyone can say to comfort you. It takes time, but there are people that want to help. It’s difficult to make those connections. If you don’t get the answers you want appeal, I think that’s something I learned a long time ago. I will leave that at the word appeal. But I think a lot of times, like we said, they’re gonna visit the administrative process and we don’t understand. Not only are we blinded by this disaster and overwhelmed into straud, we need help, basic help, but you have to hang in there if you have the capacity to do so. And people do want to help. I think they do, just ask the right people and keep asking till you get to the right person.


“It is not necessarily a ‘No’ until you’ve asked at least three times. And you have a right to also know the why of the ‘No’.” -Jennifer Thompson


Jennifer Gray Thompson: That’s actually really huge. I can say, easier than you can say. And now is not necessarily a no until you’ve asked at least three times.

Cherry Jochum: A lot out of this a number.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I’m saying these times, and that’s in our experience. You got to keep going back, and really, you have a right to also know the why of the no. And so there’s something small you have to do, so if you wanted to, I would love it if you would leave, give it to people to visit you on LinkedIn.

Cherry Jochum: Connect with me. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Twitter, and I’m on Facebook. I don’t post too much about personal, but I really try to share these resources as best I can. So I’m happy to have them connect with me. I’ll send you my Integrated Recovery Coordination. I’m currently in Georgia, I’m happy to, if someone wants to email me personally, I’m happy to connect them with my resources. Because as you know, they’re not always state specific. I’m happy to provide referrals and help them. And if their state, or city, or town is possible, we can connect them to our disaster recovery resource library.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And it’s so much of how this work is done is through networks and communities. Person to commute person, community to community, I know that it’s made a huge difference in my work with the networking of when you all talk to each other, and then you pass good ideas around and you try to bring good people into your fold. And it’s truly a remarkable group of people that I have met to work for FEMA, or the Texas JLO. I had Dr. Lopez on a couple months ago. So I just really want to thank you for your work and your service. It is service to this country when people are most vulnerable. So thank you so much, Cherry Jochum, for being on the podcast.

Cherry Jochum: Thank you so much for having me. I can I say that you are an amazing person. I had a connection with you from the beginning, I watch you, you’re doing a lot for disaster recovery and I love How to Disaster. Only a genius like you can come up with that.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, I don’t know. I can’t go with the genius thing, but I can say that I am relentlessly sort of inspired by the puzzle of this work, and the people that I meet along the way who are really doing everything they can to make this really awful experience better. And that’s what keeps me in the game, even when sometimes the game sucks at times. Like, oh, this was really difficult, and how am I gonna make it through? And then you remember, you are part of a team–

Cherry Jochum: I applaud you for using social as you do, and I think it’s very effective. I think of it in a small way. That’s what I’m trying to do. But I think what you’re doing is extremely effective. And I think all of the folks impacted by the fires should be grateful to you and I know I am and I’m not part of it, but I’m watching and I care.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Actually, that’s really honestly, like 80% of the battle. So thank you again, Cherry. I’d love to have you on and keep doing the good work out there.

Cherry Jochum: Me too. Thank you, Jennifer.

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