Rob Rains President, United Way of Brevard

We interviewed Rob Rains a week after Hurricane Matthew skirted the coast of Brevard County. Even though the eye stayed offshore, the effects were widespread and in some cases devastating. While we intended to discuss this month’s theme, “Giving Back,” and how Rob was a central figure in United Way’s ongoing outreach, the storm and United Way’s efforts in helping those affected took center stage. 

SCL: First tell us a little about your involvement with The United Way. 

RR: This is my 23rd campaign, and I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the people of Brevard. People are giving to United Way and through United Way to over 40 agencies and 50 programs. Agencies like Big Brother/Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, and scouting, and programs like domestic violence shelters and safe houses for runaways. We have so many great partnerships with the bigger companies, as well a lot of smaller ones who run great campaigns, too. That’s one half of the United Way people know about. But we also have significant responsibilities in disaster relief. Responsibilities that kicked into high gear this past week, and are ongoing. 

SCL: …and this is where we talk about the storm. 

RR: Most people don’t know this, but we man Brevard’s central points of distribution (CPODs) for water and ice during a disaster. FEMA brings in water, ice, and food, and we provide the manpower for these centers to distribute it all to those in need. We also help man the 211 Call Center informing people on power outages, water availability, and more. Sometimes just being able to get answers is the most reassuring thing. We even coordinate with faith-based groups who come in to help tarp roofs, and clean up debris from homes. We also help find temporary shelter for those displaced by evacuations or damage. Local government relies on us in many ways, mostly unknown to local residents… until they need us. 

SCL: Do you have a favorite storm story? 

RR: I do! This came to me from one of our board members, but it shows how we all can come together to help. During the height of the storm, a tree comes down from a neighbor’s yard and knocks down a power line into the yard of a disabled vet in Palm Bay. The line, fence, and wet ground are now electrified. He calls FPL, but they can’t get to him for two days, which given the magnitude of the storm, isn’t unreasonable. This veteran stands guard over this electrified part of his yard for two days to be sure no one walks though and is injured or killed. 2 days. His house is damaged, he has a large tree laying across his roof, and he stands watch to be sure no one gets hurt. The line gets fixed, but he has neither a way, nor resources to remove the tree or fix his roof. I got a call from that board member who tells me of this vet’s plight. Through the United Way, he organized volunteers to cut and remove the tree, and another board member stepped in to get a roofing company in to fix his roof at a greatly reduced cost. 

We can’t be a large, national organization dedicated to helping charities and community outreach organizations and lose sight of helping that one person we can touch immediately. That’s the heart of The United Way in Brevard.