Photo courtesy of Cannon Missionary Seth Cannon, right, teamed up with United Way of Jackson County CEO Dee Anne Everson, left, and others to help survivors of the Almeda fire.
Seth Cannon serving the LDS mission with United Way
When Seth Cannon, a graduate of South Medford High School, took a break from college to serve a mission with United Way of Jackson County, he was quickly thrown into the role of an adult laden with responsibility.
Cannon began his mission of service through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in August 2020. The plan was for him to learn about different aspects of the work done by United Way, an organization of social services.
Then the Almeda Fire hit on September 8, 2020 and burned 2,500 homes and over 170 businesses, mostly in Phoenix and Talent. Over 4,000 people became instantly homeless and many lost their jobs.
United Way called on Cannon to play a key role in disaster response.
“He became our fire program manager because we desperately needed help,” said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County.
United Way has set up a fire relief program to collect and distribute donations to help fire survivors. But someone needed to sift through the mountain of requests for help, review the documents and make sure the requests were legitimate – and not from fraudsters trying to profit from the disaster.
“He reviewed every request for funding over the next year and a half. There were over 860 requests,” Everson said.
Confronting story after story of loss was not easy, but it had to be done.
“I was really grateful to know that with all the donations we received, we would be able to help a lot of them,” Cannon said. “But there are a whole bunch of needs that we haven’t been able to meet yet. It was really hard to look through these families and households that had lost absolutely everything and are somehow trying to rebuild their lives after this disaster.
Now a junior, Cannon has returned to college at Brigham Young University in Utah, but continues to volunteer for United Way from a distance. He spoke by telephone to the Mail Tribune.
Cannon said he strives to maintain a positive attitude toward United Way efforts. Although the nonprofit organization could not solve all the problems of a displaced family, it could help some. A wide range of other organizations and government agencies have also stepped up.
“It wasn’t easy. I felt pretty overwhelmed because I’m just a 21-year-old trying to figure out the best way for us to help these families. Some of the stories are pretty heartbreaking,” he said. he said. “But I had to keep reminding myself that we are going to recover from this disaster one family at a time. It may not be all they need, but we can meet a small need for a family. If we do this enough, we will eventually be fully recovered from this fire.
Everson said Cannon also conducted more than 160 interviews with survivors to assess the extent of their needs and losses. Each interview can last an hour.
People suffered not only from the financial consequences of the fire, but also from the death of pets and the loss of irreplaceable items such as photo albums, wedding dresses and handmade quilts. . Being interviewed can bring up those sad memories, Everson said.
“It’s exhausting. We must do everything not to re-traumatize them secondarily. We also don’t want to traumatize our staff and volunteers,” she said.
Cannon had to be sensitive and supportive during interviews, Everson said.
“He’s a young man and he’s taken it all on,” she said.
Cannon not only helped fire survivors, he did public service announcements about suicide prevention and awareness. The videos offer hope and raise awareness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
“He’s such a gift to this world,” Everson said.
Cannon was originally scheduled to serve a year-long assignment with the United Way, but he extended his assignment for six months to continue helping, Everson said.
A service mission is an alternative to the more well-known proselytizing missions carried out by young men and women for the LDS Church.
Youth on a service mission typically live at home and volunteer in their own community, often with local organizations. Their missions have included feeding the homeless, helping children with special needs, volunteering in food pantries and teaching refugees English and helping them obtain citizenship, according to the LDS church.
Service assignments last six to 18 months for women and six to 24 months for men, the church said.
For proselytizing missions, people are sent across the United States and around the world. They knock on doors and meet people to publicize the LDS Church and its beliefs.
In some parts of the world, missionaries only serve in humanitarian missions and do not proselytize, the LDS church said.
Everson, who does not belong to the church, said she was aware of LDS proselytizing missions but had not heard of service missions.
“It was amazing to watch him serve his faith and his community for 18 months,” she said of Cannon.
Neither service missionaries nor proselytizing missionaries are paid, the LDS church said.
Everson said having Cannon volunteer as the United Way’s fire program manager meant more donations could be made to fire survivors. Centraide did not have to hire an employee to take on this work.
United Way first provided money to help people deal with the immediate aftermath of the fire, then focused on transitional assistance and permanent resettlement needs. Lately, he’s provided help with everything from car repairs and fixing a well to buying windows and a door for a house and paying for the cost of moving a trailer.
Everson said Cannon has written a fire recovery report on the progress the community has made so far and is completing another report on United Way assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December, United Way named Cannon one of 10 Everyday Heroes for 2021. The recognition honors Jackson County residents who help others individually, at work or through service organizations.
Back at BYU, Cannon picks up where he left off.
“It’s definitely a bit of an adjustment trying to remember everything I learned a few years ago,” he said. “But I wouldn’t change anything. I was really happy to have been able to take this break and serve Centraide.
Cannon said his time at United Way gave him a greater appreciation for people who spend their entire careers working for nonprofit groups. Hard work can lead to burnout. He is majoring in economics and doesn’t believe he will go into the nonprofit sector himself, but he wants to use his degree to help communities.
“One thing I realized was how amazing these grassroots organizations are. I was able to work with absolutely amazing people. Seeing them dedicate their whole lives to this work made me much more willing to donate to these same organizations later in my life,” he said.
Cannon said he hopes more young people on LDS service missions can team up with organizations like United Way that help communities.
“I am really grateful to them. Dee Anne Everson and other United Way staff are a powerful force for good. I am really grateful that they agree to let me spend time with them and learn from them,” he said. “I hope other nonprofits will be willing to let a service missionary volunteer with them for a period of time, as I believe it can benefit everyone involved.”
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.