“I’m actually an atheist” three years later: Tornadoes and HDR Teams


On May 20, 2013, an EF5 tornado destroyed Rebecca Vitsmun's home in Moore, OK, and almost killed her and her young son. Later, while standing in the ruins, she was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer in a clip that has since become famous. As he asked her repeatedly if she thanked the Lord for her survival, Rebecca answered with calm grace, "Actually, I'm an atheist."

Her experience as a disaster victim was a light-bulb moment for her. "I could see the difference between the infrastructure the religious community already has in place and that of the atheist community," she says. "It doesn't seem like our community is prepared to handle something like this should the religious institutions disappear overnight."

To learn more about Rebecca's journey and the HDR Teams, click on the photo below to watch a short video. 

A short three years later, much has changed. Led by Rebecca, the Foundation Beyond Belief's first Humanist Disaster Recovery (HDR) Team had their initial deployment in January to an area of South Carolina ravaged by flooding from Hurricane Joaquin. The group trained, demolished the interior of a home, performed mold remediation, and worked to put the structure back together.

Putting the HDR Teams program together was not done quickly, but with careful consideration of every facet of the operation. As Rebecca explained during the deployment, "[The] HDR Teams [program] is built upon a solid foundation. We were created to keep the focus on the survivor and to help those who need it the most. It was in meeting the homeowners here that we can really see the difference we are making by placing our focus on disaster recovery instead of working within the response phase."

Rebecca knows personally what this work means to the people affected by disasters. "We are truly rebuilding the lives of the families here and it is hard not to tear up when I think about how glad I am that we are here." 

The number of deployments we are able to do is directly tied to the success of our fundraising. We are thrilled the initial deployment went so well and we look forward to doing more, but that can only happen with the help of our donors. This work is important. As Rebecca remarked, "[One homeowner] said she didn't even realize that there were people in the world who would really volunteer like that and she was so grateful." HDR Teams are one of the many ways that FBB helps humanists put their values to work. If you are able to help support this program, please visit our website.

If you (or anyone you know) are interested in being part of a future Humanist Disaster Recovery Team, we would love for you to join us! Click here to apply!

If you would like to see daily updates of the work being done, follow our Facebook page here.