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SBA honors outstanding disaster recovery efforts

A small business owner in Rhode Island who helped his community and later rebuilt his business after a massive flood, a Tennessee mayor whose efforts staved off job losses in his town, and a Millington, Tenn., volunteer who organized the reconstruction of flood-damaged homes were each presented with Phoenix Awards during the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week 2011 celebration in Washington, D.C.

The awards were given during a luncheon sponsored by Sam’s Club, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

“These individuals displayed tremendous courage and resourcefulness in the midst of several devastating disasters,” said SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills.  “The Phoenix Award acknowledges their heroic efforts, and is a token of appreciation for their contributions to the economic recovery of their communities.”

James Silvestri of Westerly, R.I., received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery.  Drenching rainfall in spring 2010 caused the Pawcatuck River in Westerly to grow from a benign stream to a fierce, raging current. When flood waters entered Silvestri’s auto parts store on April 2, he and his 30 employees scrambled to move inventory from the basement to the first floor. They had to evacuate when the waters rose six feet above street level.

Silvestri is also a volunteer fireman in Westerly, but instead of focusing on his business, he worked with the town’s first responders to assist others in need. After returning to his store, Silvestri learned his insurance did not cover the estimated $300,000 in flood damages. He received an SBA disaster loan, which provided the funds to secure a new location. Silvestri’s supplier, NAPA Connecticut, lent him 40 volunteers to help set up the new store. Loyal customers paid accounts forward to help him cover operating costs. Westerly Auto Parts reopened within 12 days. In addition to saving 30 jobs, he was able to hire 10 more employees.

Mayor Gary Norwood of Ashland City, Tenn., received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official. In the aftermath of a devastating flood last May, Norwood worked with city department heads and state and federal first responders, coordinating the city’s disaster response and recovery. While tackling the immediate issues such as making sure the drinking water was safe, Norwood soon came to grips with a disaster that threatened to ruin Ashland’s economic recovery. The A.O. Smith Corporation facility was inundated with six feet of water, and damages totaled more than $67 million. Faced with the loss of 1,200 jobs, Norwood worked with state and local officials to encourage the company — Ashland City’s largest employer — to stay and rebuild.  Saving those jobs continues to contribute to the revival of the local economy.

Larry J. Silvey of Millington, Tenn., received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Volunteer. In just two days in May 2010, nearly 18 inches of rain fell on Millington, Tenn., causing widespread flooding. A retired Navy flight engineer and building contractor, Larry Silvey possessed the practical skills, along with energy and a generous spirit, to take on a leadership role in Millington’s recovery. After getting permission from neighbor to set up a tent in his front yard, Silvey established a neighborhood command post and started organizing volunteers. He gathered people with electrical, plumbing, and drywall skills, matching them with laborers to rebuild the flood-damaged homes. Volunteers came from as far away as Louisiana to help. Silvey had led disaster response teams there after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When workers needed materials to replace cabinets, flooring and insulation, he covered the cost. Within seven weeks Silvey and his teams had logged 10,000 hours of free labor, rebuilding 200 Millington homes.

Since 1998, the SBA has presented Phoenix Awards to business owners, public officials and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.

SBA makes low-interest, taxpayer-backed disaster loans to homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profit organizations of all sizes.  More information about the disaster assistance program is available at

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