Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be flooded out of your home, disrupting every aspect of your life. Now imagine waiting three and a half years before you can complete your home repair.
For the Harrilalls of Arverne, NY, this is not an exercise, but the reality for a family whose home suffered significant damage from eight feet of floodwaters when Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast nearly four years ago and flooded most of the Rockaway Peninsula. While many households had adequate resources to pay for post-disaster home rebuilding, many families like the Harrilalls did not, and so, years later, they are still displaced or living in their water-damaged homes.
JCRC’s TELEM program is proud to be a part of the solution for those households in need. Last week, in partnership with Friends of Rockaway (FoR), a community-based nonprofit organization founded in response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Rockaway Peninsula, we brought a crew of eager teens from the JCRC’s TELEM program to Rockaway for the fourth time. And, this time, we were assigned to the Harrilall home to help them move closer to recovery.
While the damaged roof has been repaired, the mold removed from the walls, the rotted stairs replaced, and the rafters cleared of vermin, the Harillal home is still very much in need of further repair. Sweaty and covered in plaster dust and paint, we worked hard to help the Harrillals move closer to finish as we spackled, sanded, primed, and painted walls.
Over the course of our three days, we could see the rooms transform from a construction site to the beginnings of a finished home. And, over the course of the trip – as is true for so many on our previous trips – TELEM teens become transformed as well. In the spirit of ‘livnot u’lehibanot” – through the experience of building (transforming) they become transformed in the process, with many of them rolling up their sleeves for multiple trips.
Tamar Gaffin-Cahn, a trip chaperone and former JCRC service trip participant, reflected on our work in this way:
“Our recent trip to New York was especially meaningful for me, and…the kids too because of the home owner's story. She had been put on a waiting list for three and a half years with half of her house rotting away. She was skeptical and wouldn't believe her luck until her house was finally finished. By the end of September, she'll finally have her home back, better than ever.”
And, it is important to note the crucial role that non-profits like FoR and faith-based volunteer groups like JCRC’s TELEM can play in disaster recovery. Where flood insurance is inadequate or non-existent, where government agencies are slow to provide resources, and where unscrupulous contractors take advantage of vulnerable people, faith groups and non-profits are often the saving grace for those in desperate need.
In these post-Sandy years, - through our ten service-immersion trips to NY and another to New Orleans - JCRC has forged strong working relationships with non-profit organizations in New York and Louisiana whose mission it is to assist families without the resources to rebuild their homes on their own. We’ve been gratified by the response of young members of our community, who have enabled us to provide reliable volunteer assistance to help these families return to their homes. As we continue our trips to NY, we have also set our sights on sending crews to Louisiana, Texas and other communities who have suffered from other natural disasters. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of communities in need of volunteers now, and for years to come.
Reflecting on this benchmark tenth service trip to NY, it never ceases to impress me how moved our teens are by the stories and realities of people losing their homes , and how compelled they are to help. Returning for multiple trips with TELEM has become a priority for many teens as they recognize the work is not finished and as they become more experienced with this work, their contributions are increasingly valuable. As Ben Fein said in reflecting on his five experiences on TELEM trips, “I would travel anywhere to do a TELEM service trip!” And, as Mrs. Harrilall said to Ben and the other trip participants, “Your being here gives us hope.”