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Partnerships for Recovery: Coming Together During Crisis

by Wendy Spencer

Last week, I led a delegation to New York and New Jersey to visit sites providing disaster assistance to people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Throughout the day, we were joined by local elected officials who are working hard to meet the needs of their communities. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, New Jersey Lt. Gov. and Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), and New York City Councilman Brad Lander each joined us for a portion of the day.

We witnessed firsthand the strong partnerships needed to help communities recover and rebuild from a storm as devastating as Hurricane Sandy.

In New York, we visited the Park Slope Armory Shelter in Brooklyn. There, volunteers from the YMCA were working alongside city officials and reserve medical teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A rabbi from a local synagogue brought in food. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods were showing up to help in whatever way they could. AmeriCorps members from as far away as New Mexico were making sure elderly individuals who had been displaced from nursing homes felt a sense of normalcy. People from all walks of life were exhibiting limitless compassion and a can-do spirit that made a difficult situation inspiring. It was truly an all-hands-on-deck operation.

We witnessed similar scenes of compassion and resolve at a Disaster Recovery Center in Far Rockaway, NY, that had just opened the day before. In this hard-hit section of Queens, partnerships were in full force. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) employees were signing up survivors for disaster assistance and Small Business Administration (SBA) officials were processing loans.Volunteers from a faith-based group in Florida set up a mobile food truck serving thousands of meals a day.Gretchen, one of the volunteers, explained how the work of FEMA Corps (an initiative of AmeriCorps dedicated solely to disaster preparedness and response) had been indispensable in making sure families were getting food, blankets, and other basic needs.

We also visited a Red Cross Operations Center in North Brunswick, NJ. It was coordinating more than 6,000 volunteers across the state in an office building that had been transformed into a command center. We met an incredibly diverse group of AmeriCorps members who had come to New Jersey from around the country to lend a hand. I am proud that our AmeriCorps and Senior Corps teams (about 1,000 members working in seven affected states) are on the ground and making a difference.

The communities we visited are in tough circumstances, and we all have to work together to address their concerns and give them peace of mind. We know that this takes time. Given Sandy's impact across a large and densely populated area, this will be a long recovery effort.

By working together – as nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, government agencies, and committed volunteers – we can help Sandy survivors get back on their feet, and on with their lives.

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. She previously served as the CEO of the Florida Governor's Commission on Volunteerism. During Florida's record-breaking 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, the agency coordinated more than 252,000 volunteers and $85 million worth of donated items, which was the largest mobilization of volunteers in the history of U.S. natural disasters at the time.

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