In a state of emergency, community outreach representatives step up

Tornadoes, earthquakes and widespread flooding struck Oklahoma in late April, creating conditions severe enough to declare a state of emergency across all 77 counties in the state. Many counties were also considered federal disaster areas, and FEMA ended up paying $35 million to help with disaster relief. In the midst of this crisis, Kambia Williams and Chris Cruz sprang into action to help those affected.

Kambia and Chris are two Community Outreach Representatives (CORs) for UnitedHealthcare in Oklahoma and have each developed strong ties in the community. They’re tasked to become a go-to resource in times of need for community-based organizations — particularly in supporting members with a dual special needs plan.

Shortly after one of the major tornadoes hit, Kambia got a call from Sox of Love, a community partner that provides warm socks to people in need, with a request to help the town of El Reno, just 28 miles outside Oklahoma City. The community was devastated after the tornado hit a local mobile home park and a hotel, killing two people and injuring 29 others. 

Sox of Love wanted help to set up a support station at a nearby laundromat. Together, Kambia and Sox of Love helped 133 displaced families wash their clothes by providing laundry soap, dryer sheets and lunch for volunteers. In addition to the laundry station, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Oklahoma made a $1,000 donation to Sox of Love to help support continuing disaster relief.

Two hours away, the after-effects of massive flooding hit the Tulsa area hard.

Chris, a local COR, got a call to help fill sandbags. It didn’t take long before he had a dozen members of his 13-year-old’s baseball team ready to join him. 

In addition to his support on the ground, Chris reached out to several community organizations to see what else was needed. One partner, Wagoner Area Neighbors, requested personal hygiene items to help people who were displaced, living in shelters or local churches, and another partner needed flood clean-up supplies. He helped both organizations get what they needed.

Although this was an extraordinary month, Chris and Kambia’s on-the-ground, grassroots approach to the partnerships they’ve built in the state demonstrated how compassion and communication can have a big impact in a community.

“It was a bad situation, but good to see the good hearts of people,” Chris said.

As for Kambia, she knows all too well what it’s like to go through tough times — and those experiences are what fuels her passion to pay it forward. 

“I was homeless at 18 years old, and that is why I do what I do,” she said. “I’ve received help from people in the past. Now I’m in this type of position ... I just want to give back.”  

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