Surprised. Flattered. Humble. Those are some of the words that describe Rev. Karyn Ratcliffe’s reaction to receiving the Humanitarian Award from Garden State Woman (GSW), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women to take control of their lives and better their communities.
Ratcliffe was honored for her volunteer work in Wayne and the North Jersey community in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene last year. Ratcliffe is also the founding director of the Wayne Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), a non-profit organization caused what some called the worst area flooding in a century.
Ratcliffe was quick not to take sole credit for the group’s founding.
“What we accomplished was simply incredible and I didn’t do it alone, I had a town full of people. All I did was initiate it,” Ratcliffe said in her office at the . I feel that the work our town did really deserves to be lifted up and made known so that other people in other communities will have it as a model that they can follow.”
The idea for VOAD actually had its roots in the Wayne Interfatith Network’s food pantry, which Ratclff’s helps oversee. Residents already knew of her desire to help people through that ministry. The ministry also helped her be sensitive to residents’ needs.
“They started contacting me saying ‘we’re frustrated because nobody seems to be doing anything.’ All I did was listen to them,” Ratcliffe said. “Because I’m a pastor in town, and I recognize that as a position of leadership in the town, I felt an obligation to be there for the town.”
GSW founder Judy Chapman noticed that sense of obligation Ratcliffe had, and indeed, still does, regarding her neighbors.
“She’s always thinking of the big picture,” Chapman said. “She is an outstanding humanitarian and we wanted to acknowledge her caring and sense of responsibility to those around her,” Chapman said. “It is wonderful to see people caring about other people in today’s culture. We need more humanitarians like her.”
Lauri Masur, a member of GSW and Packanack Community Church, nominated Ratcliffe for the award.
“She saw a need and she jumped on it, she didn’t just talk about doing something,” Masur said. “She didn’t just address the immediate problem. She created an organization to be proactive and prepared to respond during any kind of disaster. She’s creative and knows how to make things happen.”
VOAD was founded after Ratcliffe called Assemblyman Scott Rumana, who helped her organize a meeting with residents who wanted to help their neighbors after Irene.
VOAD was on the front lines of relief in the days and weeks after Irene hit North Jersey. Members delivered hundreds of hot meals to residents who lost power but remained in their homes. Volunteers also served meals at the and distributed supplies at the . The group is so it is prepared to respond to other kinds of disasters, not just flooding, should one occur.
Ratcliffe credits God for VOAD’s founding.
“I firmly believe that God called me to this position and that God inspired the people to respond. I really believe that God was in the process because of the way it happened. I made one phone call to Scott and two days later we’ve got a room full of people and three hours later we’ve got an organization,” Ratcliffe said. “That was a confluence of events that could only be explained by divine intervention and that’s why I feel like I don’t deserve any award because I didn’t bring any of this about, God did and I always give glory to God. I don’t want to take that glory for myself.”
Ratcliffe said VOAD, and the work is has done, is an example of what can be accomplished when people sacrifice their time and personal plans to help others. It defines what it means to live in and be an active member of a community.
“To be human beings living in community with each other means that we should think of our lives as being entwined with other people’s live and we ought to always ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to help somebody else’,” Ratcliffe said. “We’re such a stronger community now because of what VOAD did and it didn’t take a lot of work to do it. And look at how much we gained.”