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College of Human Ecology

Kansas Rural Family Helpline gets rural families back on their feet

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

MANHATTAN -- When it rains, it pours. Or in this instance, snows, sleets, ice, etc.

Winter storms in late December and again in early January may have put a dent in the drought that has wreaked havoc across western Kansas the past few years. But the benefit of those storms, which dropped several feet of snow and left inches of ice in its wake, pales in comparison to the damage that has socked the region.

Significant power outages affected an estimated 60,000 people as thousands of utility poles were snapped, burdened with the weight of 5 to 6 inches of ice around power lines and limbs as well as winds that whipped up 15-foot snow drifts. The power outages also affected water service in many areas as many municipal water plants and well pumps in rural communities were unable to operate.

Thousands of head of cattle were lost, as animals either froze to death or asphyxiated when snow packed in their nostrils. The long-term financial impact of these losses on the state's livestock industry will not be fully realized for some time to come.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared 44 counties western Kansas that were affected by storm damage as Federal disaster areas with estimates to public infrastructure exceeding more than $360 million dollars. That declaration qualifies those counties for all seven categories of public assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As the snow begins to melt, power is restored and brings a sense of the toll the storm has taken on infrastructure and livelihood. While farmers and ranchers are known for their resiliency and hardiness with high plains winters,, some are calling this "the worse storm we've ever had," and one that has certainly brought more damage to the area than has been seen in years.

Charlie Griffin's phone has been ringing none stop since the storm ended.

Griffin, a K-State research assistant professor of family studies and human service in the College of Human Ecology, is the director of the Kansas Rural Family Helpline. The helpline is currently available to assist rural families get back on their feet, providing assistance to rural families as well as service providers in the aftermath of the storm.

In a partnership with the Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services, hotline staff members are available to provide free confidential assistance, support and referrals to help agricultural producers and rural families with immediate needs. Many of those are individuals, Griffin said, who would never publicly or privately admit they need assistance.

"For people who don't know where else to turn, we can help," Griffin said.

Established in 2000 in response to the needs of Kansas rural families and individuals, the helpline provides confidential support and information regarding resources available to those who have been affected by the storm.

"Some times they just need someone to listen to them even if there are no immediate solutions available," Griffin said.

The hotline's partner in this assistance endeavor, the Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services, has served the Kansas agricultural community as the USDA certified agricultural mediation service since 1988. Administered by K-State Research and Extension, the mediation service helps to resolve conflicts between Kansas Agricultural borrowers and creditors using mediation.

A staff attorney is available to answer questions and assist with finding legal resources.

According to Forrest Buhler, a staff attorney with Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services, these services are intended to provide initial information and guidance at no cost through a toll-free hotline. A state-wide network of cooperating agencies and programs includes a pool of trained agricultural mediators, K-State Research and Extension financial consultants and Kansas Legal Services. The program's goal is to help resolve conflicts and disputes using mediation.

For more information contact the Kansas Rural Family Helpline toll free at 1-866-327-6578
E-mail: farmksu@humec.ksu.edu

Or contact KAMS at 1-800-321-3276.

Source: Charles L. Griffin, 785-532-2025, cgriffin@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Keener A. Tippin II, 785-532-6415, media@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, and is filed under Family Studies & Human Services.