If you’re from the Northeast, chances are you were preparing for Hurricane Sandy, little knowing that it would soon become the storm of the century (so far!). A day later, particularly along the coastline of New Jersey and in waterfront sections of New York City, whole neighborhoods were demolished, beaches and boardwalks washed away, and millions found themselves without heat or power, and many remained homeless, living in temporary accommodations, for months. Even now, with the first anniversary of Sandy, some communities and organizations are still struggling to rebuild.
But if Sandy proved that natural disasters are remarkably democratic in their impact, the storm also proved once again that voluntarism can be an important factor in the rebuilding process, even long after the primary storm damage is cleared.
With the holidays coming quickly on the heels of Sandy, the Junior League of Monmouth County joined forces with Distinctive Toys, Life Guard Ecumenical Foundation, Knights of Columbus and rebuildrecover.com to create Sandy’s Toy Shoppe, a place where affected families were able to select age-appropriate toys for their children to ensure the magic of Christmas and Chanukah would carry on despite the devastating tragedy of the storm. Many months later, JLMC was still pitching in, partnering with Coastal Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild homes in the Monmouth County area impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Members of the JLMC and their families met each Saturday in April to help 3 families recover from the storm.
The New York Junior League raised $15,000 for its disaster relief fund, which it gave to the Caffrey Conroy Learning Center in the beachfront community of Breezy Point, which was devastated by a fire set off during the storm. The grant enabled the learning center to re-open its doors in time for summer programming. As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approached, the League began coordinating a special DIAD project to send its volunteers to work in one of the more heavily impacted communities in New York by reaching out to a number of the organizations that applied for a grant from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund.
Sandy is by no means the only recent natural disaster to capture the nation’s attention because of the sheer extent of the damage, both in material and human terms. Members of the Junior League of Colorado Springs moved quickly to respond to the victims of the Black Forest Fire outside of their city, which destroyed some 500 homes in June 2013. Focusing on the need to provide books to affected children, the League’s “Books of Hope” program partnered with the Educational Development Corporation, a book publisher, and its direct-selling unit Usborne Books & More, which provided a 50% matching grant for every dollar raised by JLCS. Donated books went to students in a local school district heavily impacted by the fire.
Following the success of the “Books of Hope” drive, JLCS plans to use the fund-raising tool to support community partners in need. In 2012, in response to the Waldo Canyon Fire, JLCS members collected and distributed thousands of toys for the children affected by the fire. Following the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in May 2013 – an EF5 tornado with peak winds estimated at 210 miles that killed 23 people and injured 377 others – the Junior League of Tulsa partnered with a local organization called HEAL.Moore, formed by a group of teachers to provide their peers at schools most affected by the disaster with school supplies to get ready for the upcoming school year. The decision to give aid directly was motivated by the desire to help teachers avoid the lengthy process of applying for post-storm aid by way of their districts from the state.
And going back to Hurricane Katrina? The Junior League of New Orleans demonstrated the power of voluntarism by mobilizing 1,000 volunteers from three countries to help its city’s most devastated neighborhoods recover from the storm. The project, called “Rebuilding a Better New Orleans,” brought together 600 Junior League members representing 74 Leagues for a week-long project that marked the largest gathering of Junior Leaguers from across the Association outside of an AJLI annual conference, with members and their friends and family putting in over 12,000 volunteer hours during the week’s projects.
Working with generous community partners, JLNO’s initiative resulted in the completion of 28 projects and touched the lives of individuals, many of whom were impoverished homeowners who had suffered great losses during the storm. The volunteers that traveled many miles to lend their time and energy to the project left New Orleans knowing that they had participated in a project that truly exemplified the AJLI motto “women building better communities.”