*By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.
Sonja R. Edd-Bennett has been named the Director of the California-Nevada Conference Disaster Response Ministry. This is a new position for the annual conference being funded with a grant from the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR). In this role Edd-Bennett's primary function will be to represent and equip conference engagement with long term recovery groups in communities impacted by disasters, to increase the capacity of the conference to respond to future disasters, and to positively impact disaster survivors in their recovery process.
"I am so blessed to have the opportunity to serve within the Methodist Church in this role. God continually amazes me. In my short 2 ½ years of participating in the church I have come to love the people and am moved by their commitment and willingness to jump in and serve those in need," says Edd-Bennett. "I have sensed a call to join in that work specifically through the UMC, and am excited to see how God is working it all out."
Edd-Bennett comes to the conference after seven years in ministry with The Salvation Army as the director of government relations for California and the director of programs for the Alhambra campus in Sacramento. Prior to The Salvation Army, she worked in the Sacramento City Unified School District in the areas of school safety, youth development, and academic mentoring programs. Before the school district, she served as the Corps Officer (Executive Director/Pastor) for The Salvation Army in Visalia.
She has served in leadership for the Northern California Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters and is the current President of the organization. Edd-Bennett has advocated at the State Capitol for strategies to improve communication between public agencies and volunteer organizations in all stages of disaster, and is now in the beginning stages of conversation on supporting mental health needs among survivors, and how to better provide the most vulnerable survivors much needed affordable housing in areas already experiencing a housing shortage.
The Rev. Linda Caldwell, Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration, who will supervise the position, says, "Sonja brings a depth of experience and commitment to the ministry of disaster. This is a vital ministry of transformation which assists those impacted most by the fires we have experienced in Northern California." She added, "I’m grateful to UCMOR and the generous donations to the California-Nevada disaster response fund for the funds to underwrite the work Sonja will do to lead the recovery efforts and build our capacity to respond to our present and future disasters."
Edd-Bennett is working toward a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California, holds a Bachelor of Music Performance from California State University Long Beach, and an Associate of Arts in Ministry from The Salvation Army College for Officer Training.
Caldwell says, "Sonja has just two years to accomplish these recovery and capacity building goals. I pray that we will take advantage of her spirit and experience during this time of critical focus on Disaster response." She added, "Her work and our partnership with her will not only impact our conference and its communities, it will enable us to be in ministry across the US and around the world."
She is a member of the United Methodist Church of Merced where her husband the Rev. George Edd-Bennett is the pastor. They are the parents of three adult children, Kaela, Emily, and Bradley, as well as companion dog Rollie.
*Hygh is director of communications for the California-Nevada Conference which includes 370 United Methodist Churches with 73,000 congregants in Northern California and Northern Nevada.