When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast last year, areas that rarely saw a storm of that magnitude discovered what it was like to live through a disaster. Experiences like this reinforce what it really means to say that we’re all in this together.
This week, storm survivors in New York, New Jersey, and other affected states find themselves in the spotlight again as the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy arrives. The reporters and cameras will only be able to chronicle part of the tale, because there are more stories than can be told in the course of a nightly news broadcast or can fit in a daily newspaper.
Living in Florida and overseeing disaster services during a time when eight hurricanes struck the state over a two-year period taught me a lot about how people cope in these situations. Time and time again, I would see the resilience of the human spirit, the strength of communities, and the compassion we all have for our fellow citizens.
I have met many people affected by Sandy while visiting national service members and volunteers working on response and recovery projects. It’s amazing to see the reactions of people whose lives are being changed by the kindness of strangers.
At a project in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, 82-year-old widow Maureen Gallagher made a special trip to personally meet the volunteers working on her home. She had moved in with her daughter living just down the street after the storm, but she needed to hug and thank the volunteers as tears of gratitude rolled down her face. Scenes like this one would be repeated over and over again.
Facing the prospect of starting over after a storm of this magnitude requires strength and resilience. After the initial shock subsides, the difficult task of rebuilding lives begins. Amidst this change, survivors learn to focus on what’s really important in their lives and often find that “home” is more than just a physical structure – it’s a place in the heart and the people who mean the most to you.
When a neighbor is in need, Americans come together to help, whether they live around the corner or thousands of miles away. I am proud that the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been able to play a part in the work that has been done to help Sandy’s survivors in their recovery from this massive storm.
Through our programs, CNCS deployed more than 3,800 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers in states affected by Hurricane Sandy. From shelter operations and disaster intake to mucking and gutting homes to coordinating more than 30,000 volunteers, our members proudly served to make a terrible situation better in any way they could.
And we will continue our work through a long-term strategy that has committed AmeriCorps NCCC and VISTA teams to return to New Jersey and New York, and help residents continue the recovery process and rebuild these communities. It doesn’t matter whether the task involves lending a hand with a project, an ear to listen to a story, or – occasionally – a shoulder to cry on; as long as we stick together, we can weather any storm.
There’s a famous saying that goes, “None of us is as good as all of us.” I am thankful that our country recognizes this and unites to give our best to those in need when times are at their worst.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post Impact Blog.
Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and other programs, and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. Spencer co-chairs the President’s Task Force on Expanding National Service with Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.