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Meet Margaret Babyak and Heather Korth of Our Front Porch in Denver

Today we’d like to introduce you to Margaret Babyak and Heather Korth.

Margaret and Heather, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
We had both been working and volunteering in different aspects of disaster recovery for a combined total of 20 years. We met at a Disaster Training in New Orleans, where we were both trying to figure out how to make Disaster Relief work our full-time job, and became fast friends. We were vacationing together and one night at a tiki bar we were chatting about the struggles of disaster relief. Maggie’s perspective was more from a lack of mental health and case management support, while Heather’s view was more from a lack of temporary housing. We started brainstorming about how we would create temporary short term rentals for disaster survivors with all the built-in support services under one roof. It was in that moment at the tiki bar that Our Front Porch was born.

We have been providing long term recovery support for the last three years and through that work have been able to really understand what the recovery process looks like and what our clients need (see Disaster Recovery Timeline). We have partnered with the Red Cross, who once they complete their crisis work, they refer clients to Our Front Porch for long term recovery support. The majority of our clients have been displaced from home fires, of which there are two each day in the Denver Metro Area and therefore, no shortage of clients. This work has also reinforced the need for affordable emergency housing for disaster survivors, which we are now focused on making a reality.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
This journey has been one filled with ups and downs which make this not only challenging but exciting!

One of our first challenges was getting people to understand that home fires are a significant issue. People have been shocked at how often and how many families are displaced a year. When most people think of disasters, they like wildfires and hurricanes. However, home fires affect more people than all other major disasters. We have spent a lot of time educating the community about these forgotten disasters and now have people from Red Cross, the emergency management community, and FEMA as partners in this mission.

Another struggle was deciding to switch from a for-profit company with a social mission (L3C) to a non-profit. We eventually decided that to better meet the needs of our clients we needed to be eligible for different grants and other funding sources.

As many non-profits will tell you fundraising is always a challenge. We are constantly looking for strategic partners, corporate sponsors, and individuals to support their neighbors during a time of crisis.

Our big vision is to build short term rental emergency housing. Finding property in the Denver Metro Area on which to create our emergency housing model has been tough in this market too. We are actively looking for partners with underutilized available property and are closely following the proposed Denver zoning changes to see what other creative options may work to make a physical Our Front Porch a reality.

Our Front Porch – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our Front Porch works with families who have been displaced by home fires in the Denver Metro Area. We call these events the “forgotten disasters.” We provide long term recovery support by addressing all three elements of disaster recovery (disaster case management, housing navigation, and trauma recovery services) simultaneously. We help people deal with the disaster after the disaster.

One of our proudest memories was when the Red Cross referred our first client to us. We had a hypothesis that families needed this type of intervention but weren’t sure what it would look like. Working with this particular family reassured us we were on the right path. We spent the next two years, studying our clients, figuring out what they needed and taking time to understand what long-term recovery looks like. We created a disaster timeline with our results and use that as an educational tool for the community.

One of the biggest strengths of our company is we have been able to bring two completely different disciplines together (social work and architecture) and look at this problem through two different lenses. This has allowed us to find a creative solution to address the forgotten disasters and fill a much-needed gap in long-term disaster recovery.

We are the only organization who picks up where the Red Cross leaves off for people affected by house fires. We work with families for three months, six months, one year, or as long as they need the support. Every client also receives free underwear, as it is something they all need but no one wants to ask for. The recovery from a home fire is no different than a larger scale disaster. However, these families go at it alone with no long term support. We are also one of the only organizations that is currently providing long term disaster case management.

Another moment that stands out to us was when we were presenting at a Post-Disaster Housing conference. A representative from FEMA approached us and told us we had an amazing model and no one is doing what we are doing. To hear that from someone who is in the trenches of disaster recovery was quite the compliment.

We meet new clients every day and knowing we can have a small impact on their recovery process keeps us doing what we do. Meeting clients each day who are appreciative of what we do is an amazing feeling. It is so rewarding when we hear clients say;

“Our Front Porch gives you a place to go where they listen to what you have to say and understand.”

“I am thankful for you guys being able to help me. When Red Cross closed my case I didn’t know what to do.”

“You were the bright spot on this dark day. I not only walked away with support but also a pink bra.”

“You two really know what you are talking about. I didn’t think I would need emotional support but here I am two weeks later angry and depressed.”

“I am so happy you kept asking me about see you talk about my feelings. I really did need it but didn’t know I did. You guys really do care and helped when no one else is around.”

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