Inspirational Stories from a Volunteers Perspective. Meet the people!!

As I was stuck in my apartment during Hurricane Sandy, like everyone else here in New York and New Jersey, I watched the coverage on NY1 news. Being alone, I was a little scared of what would happen, but luckily here in Park Slope, I only had a flicker of lights, wind and rain. So I was thinking, wow this might not be that bad. But in the morning when I woke up, I looked up at the TV to see nothing but destruction and people’s lives destroyed.
At first, I felt bad like everyone else, calling friends etc. to see how they were, and feeling lucky that we fared the storm without a scratch. Then a few days later, after it was over, a lady from Staten Island was allowed to tell her story and vent on camera.
When I heard her beg and plead for the people of New York to PLEASE HELP, and WHERE ARE THEY? Its been four days with NO electric, NO heat, NO food, NO water. WHERE IS EVERYONE? It struck a nerve in me, and made me cry. I thought “How CAN I help? ” I like so many people here in New York, I have a limited amount of money to donate, so I wanted to find a way to donate my TIME and Volunteer wherever I was needed.

And boy, am I happy I did!!
I ran a web search and came across this great website http://www.recovers.org Within the site I found different communities to help with lists of meeting places and organizations that had work for volunteers.
I looked up the Staten Island link and decided that was the community I would like to help FIRST. My reason being, that Staten Island was one of my best friends hometown (Alan Darcy) and he now lives in Florida, so I wanted to represent him and support his family that lives there (luckily they were not harmed).
I would like to share some photos and tell some of the heroic stories that these amazing people felt comfortable enough to share with me, just because I was willing to show up and listen.
I hope when you attach their faces to their stories, it will inspire you to want to get out there and donate a little of your time to help those less fortunate than you. If the shoe was on the other foot you would be looking for a person, just like you, to show up and help.

On Monday I was able to connect with The City Council through http://www.recovers.org to sign up to go with them to Staten Island to volunteer.

The volunteers met for the first time downtown, with the city council group that arranged a “New York City Sightseeing” bus to take us to Staten Island to Volunteer. We thought that was pretty crazy and awesome at the same time.

This lovely lady that usually works on this bus as a tour guide volunteered her time to go with us and even tell us some facts along the way of our amazing city. Thanks New York City Sightseeing for donating the bus!! http://www.newyorksightseeing.com

 

I was so happy to meet such wonderful people with the same goal in mind,
to get there and do whatever we could to ease the pain and work load for the people of Staten Island.

On our way to Staten Island we were probably all wondering what we would see and encounter, but we were all ready to work and give our time!

We made it to Staten Island! But, first we stopped at what they called the “Staging Area” where we would pick up extra supplies and find out our instructions to walk to the neighborhoods that needed the most help that day! I was really impressed with the organized effort of the NY City Council, they made it easy and a pleasant experience for all!!Once we got to the neighborhood, they told us to break up into groups of 3 and 4, and walk around to different properties, talk to the people and ask them if they would like help. We were instructed not to work on any electrical or drywall, since we were not qualified. But we should offer to help clean up instead. I ended pairing up with two nice men I met on our walk, Paul and Casey, and we first approached this house below, where we met a lovely couple from Poland. We asked if they needed help and Lydia responded by saying,” YES! Please, my husband work so hard he may have a heart attack”. They asked if we could help clean out the backyard, and of course we said YES! Lydia explained that the entire fenced in area had been completely submerged in water and most of the debris left behind was from other houses. As we dug through everything we found mementos, like a child’s jewelry box, a photo album from circa 1970’s completely dripping with water that Lydia decided to save because she said,sweetly, “I save, maybe somebody come by looking for” It almost broke my heart how lovely she was.

We even found this Super Hero doll, “Robin” (ironically), but not even this super hero could stop Hurricane Sandy!

I loved meeting Lydia, she even invited me to come swimming this summer. She said she would fix us all a big Polish dinner. I just may take her up on that! I asked her if we could take a picture together and she said “No, you so skinny like a model, I used to be skinny when I first came to the United States, but I like Pizza too much”, as she laughed. But then she said “Ok, lets take”. So we did! God Bless Lydia, out of everything she has lost, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor or her smile!

After we were finished with Lydia’s yard, we walked up the road, and around the corner to find a couple named George and Shirley. As we walked up you could hear George yell “Hey Shirley the troops have arrived”with a chuckle. He was in the drive, hosing down various pieces of equipment so they wouldn’t rust from the salt water.They had a 2 story home, with a garden of red peppers, that they made sure to pick before the storm hit. They had a car port that George had recently built that actually was still standing and a shed full of farming equipment, that had been under water, which George told me he uses on his farm in upstate Pennsylvania . They needed us to clean out the shed so he could get to the equipment, so he could help others in the neighborhood. How amazing, that during his own hardship, all he could think about was helping others. Love him!

But this isn’t the only thing you will learn about George! MEET GEORGE, HE IS AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE!!, I bet you didn’t know you were meeting a Hero!

Let me explain,

While I was working, I couldn’t help but notice this big canoe sitting in the yard. When meeting George, you know he has this great sarcastic sense of humor, so I said “Hey George I bet that canoe came in handy, huh? He was like (insert new york accent) “you have no idea, you don’t know the story. So I said “So please tell me the story!” He was like “first of all, I want you to take a look at the water line on my house.(he lives in a 2 story home and the water line was almost to the top of the house, give or take 3 or 4 feet. ) He said “I took the canoe onto the 2nd story balcony, just in case we needed it. And as you can guess, we did. (smile) So I decided to get in the canoe and see if I could help anybody after the surge,and now thinking about it, what I did, may not have been so smart, “cause here I am floating around not knowing whats under me.” He then says, “So I got my Fat Ass in that canoe, you know I am a 65-year-old guy(chuckle), I get in and as you can see most of the houses in Staten Island have that 3rd floor attic with 2 little windows, so I see this guy beating on the windows saying HELP, HElP!!, So I broke the window with the Oar and pulled him in the boat and brought him to safety. So I said “George? You know you’re a HERO don’t you?” George says” Nah, I just did what I needed to do.” And I said, “That’s why you’re a HERO George, YOU don’t even know your one!

Me and George taking a pic in front of the tip of the canoe, he yelled out to his wife, “Hey honey, this is my new girlfriend!” (chuckle, chuckle)

George and Shirley both said to me that they were “thankful for good people like us, and that this was a good thing we kids were doing and that we would be rewarded in this life.” They also said that this kind of situation shows the true colors of people. George said, “the people you think will show up don’t, and the people you least expect show up when you are in need.” Shirley,

George and I exchanged information, so we could stay in touch and they both invited me this summer, to bring my boyfriend to their farm in Pennsylvania.At this rate my summer dance card was going to fill up. 😉

From Left to right. Casey , Me(Robin), Shirley, Paul, and the Unsinkable George!

Once we left George and Shirley we wandered down the road to help a nice couple outside, Dario and Maria, they were working on getting Darios mothers backyard back to normal. There was green astro turf, tarps and broken tile embedded in the dirt, so we all dug in to get it done. The only thing that was not broken was this ceramic chicken. It’s crazy it was in one piece.

After much physical exertion, it was time for a water break. I was standing by the road when I noticed these two ladies talking next to me and apparently one of them lived next door to Dario’s mother and was complaining (which she had every right to do) about the confusion with FEMA, and whether or not she should start cleaning up or leave it so they could see the damage. She was getting conflicting advice from FEMA officials and was very frustrated. She just needed to vent, so I was happy to just be an EAR that she could bend. While listening, my new volunteer friend Paul went with her to check out the inside of her home and maybe give some advice. While they were inside I stayed to talk to Mary Anne. She just wanted to tell her story and I was ready to listen, and her story was unbelievable. Mary Anne was a 6 feet tall, lean lady with a lot of Spirit who has been living on the Island for many years. She was very upset about how the city officials did not tell the entire Island to evacuate! Shes like “there are no ZONES on State Island , we are a single island!! We should have all left! DUH!! She started her story by saying, You don’t want to see my street, its like Armageddon! (as she laughed)

Here is a photo we took together, I wanted to put a face with this amazing story!

She began by saying, “I take care of 5 outdoor feral cats at my house, so I trapped them in cat carriers and brought them inside for safety. I stuck them on the bed to secure them in one spot and they stayed.During the storm,I was inside waiting for the hurricane to hit, when I saw a news reporter set up outside, near my house, so I walked outside to check it out. When I looked up, I saw 100 people running towards me yelling here comes the surge!!!! You have never seen a wave so BIG!! It was like a Tsunami!! I ran inside and barricaded my self to prepare for impact. Now remember, I am 6 feet tall!! When the wave hit, the water started to rise through my floors, so I started to grab all my electronics, computer, phone etc., I threw them in a bag I put it around my chest, I looked over and the mattress with the cats was floating around the room and the water was past my waist. I decided to make a break for it, I blessed the cats and said I gotta GO! I opened the door and the water was up to my neck , so I let go of the bag of electronics, because they were ruined. I started to swim and when I started to get tired I swam over to a tree and wrapped all fours around it. Then I prayed to God and said, either take me now, or let me hold on to this tree til it’s over!, Right when I said that, I heard this guys voice coming from an attic window that said, “STAY THERE!!”, Then he threw me a rope and pulled me into his attic where 20 other people were also pulled to safety. We all stayed there and huddled together, keeping each other warm while we tried to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, the guy that saved me said “come here to the window, I want to show you something,” The tree that I was clinging to, had a house on top of it!!” I guess God heard her prayer after all!! Then she told me that a couple of days later, after the water had gone down, she walked back to her home to see what was left and what did she see?, But all 5 cats on the porch looking at her like “Where in the HELL have you been?” We both laughed loudly and then in that moment, my reaction was to just grab and hug her and say, “that was an amazing story and you are blessed to be standing here right now! That guy saved your life!” And she said Yes, we will be friends forever!! I want to thank Mary Anne for sharing with me, a total stranger, her beautiful story. She is one tough cookie, that I admire for her courage,stamina, unstoppable spirit!! Needless to say, we exchanged information, so we can stay in touch. I will never forget that moment.

We walked on down the road to see who else we could help out, when we came across more of our volunteer friends who were all jumping in to help this family of four who lived across the street from the shore line. They were a young couple with 2 young children, that lost everything in their basement and media room. You have never seen so many soaked through piles of papers, shoes, clothing and toys. It was so saturated that we had to use shovels to scrape up the debris and throw them into trash bags. Luckily Paul suggested to use the dolly to haul the bags to the curb, which was up a steep hill.

This is the beautiful wife and mother of two, Asiatu!! The basement is behind us, after we all cleaned it out, try to image it full and extending into another room to the right. About ten of us knocked it out in about an hour and a half.

There was a lot of LOVE to go around!

The amazing thing about Asiatu, is she actually called me a few days later, to thank me for all we did for them!! Can you imagine, during all of the chaos she is encountering she felt the need to thank the volunteers! Extraordinary kindness!! I plan to check up on her soon, to see how things are going.

Just to give you a sense of the conditions of Staten Island, here are some photos I took with my phone of all the Destruction and surreal surroundings.

Most of the children have been taken to safety, but you are reminded of there lives being turned upside down when you come across their toys and mementos.

Although there are many wonderful, giving people, there is always a dark side to disasters, like looters and thieves. The people posted many homemade signs letting us know what was happening in their neighborhoods,that has caused fear and insecurity within the area. Even going as far as threatening trespassers!

Don’t you just love the sweet little statue, holding up the sign.

The next shots gave me the chills. The loss of life is the most real and tragic story of them all. But the neighbors still found time to honor their neighbor Jimmy who died during the storm. I was humbled at the sight of this home.

God bless you Jimmy, I am sure you have a secure place in heaven. It reads RIP Jimmy, We Love you!

It’s Amazing to me, that most of the people who live here, even after all the crazy events that have descended on this community. They still find a way to fly their American flags showing their love for this country! It’s very touching.

Somehow, this rose found time to bloom, its showing us that its time for a new beginning.

I hope you will dig deep and find your American spirit, from these stories and photos, to help you decide to get out there and volunteer your time for our neighbors who desperately need our help. Its wont cost you a thing, just a little of your time, open heart, and ears to listen to the people who make this city so great! Lets show them we are here to help them during this scary time and help them rebuild their lives!!

They really are appreciative! 🙂

This was one of the best experiences I have ever had, it has changed my life, and made me realize how lucky I really am!! I will be going back soon and I will keep you in the loop. But once you have gone and have a story to tell, feel free to post it up on my Facebook Page. Robins Relief Effort!! Lets share and spread the word!

You will have muddy boots and a smile on your face!! I LOVE NY!!

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