Thursday, March 21, 2013

Notes from the Ground - Jon Rose W4W Update #7

In response to Super Storm Sandy, I showed up here on the East Coast, with friend DJ Struntz, on Nov 1st  2012. As we round out the 5 month mark I find myself still deeply entrenched in a way that I've only ever felt once before - during our work in Haiti, post earthquake. I remember hitting the 6 month mark in there and feeling very disconnected with the rest of the world… most likely, because I (literally) was. But I've been having the same feelings here lately. Though here on the North East I am not living in a tent or traversing bumpy dirt roads like I was in Haiti, I still have the same feelings of being slightly unhooked from the rest of the world. That said, obviously anytime we truly apply ourselves to something, it's very easy to get lost in it… It's also the nature of the path I've chosen… or let me rephrase that - the one that chose me! 
It's the little things that help a us stay grounded… for me it's been the (somewhat) regular surf sessions I've managed to have throughout the cold winter… and the people from the world I somewhat left behind that have visited me. They have served as great reminders of what my "norm" once looked like - where I came from and what my roots are made up of. I'm all for reinvention and the evolutionary process that we call life, but without a solid grasp on how we get from one chapter to the next we've got nothing… to understand our growth we must first be conscious of the steps that lead us there. 
Now let's get down to the nitty gritty… 
Our Hurricane Sandy Relief initiative has been organic and guerrilla in nature - just like all our other global projects. We have applied the same gusto and sensibilities and achieved great results… 
We have compiled our first impact report for this initiative, which I will let speak for itself - but basically it outlines the programs and/or major categories (relief centers, home & small business restorations, monetary grants, hot meals, etc) in which we've put our funds towards; and the actual people/communities that have been impacted by them. In addition to the things listed on the report there are a number of spontaneous initiatives that we continue to do each week. They may not necessarily become ongoing programs for us but they are great relief initiatives all the same. A couple I'd like to mention as of recent are the Coney Island Firehouse supply drive and the Farmers Market at our 96th St relief center in Rockaway. 
We learned of the Coney Island Firehouse situation through one of the fireman, Bradach Walsh (also co-founder of Rockaway Beach Surf Club), stationed there that lives in Rockaway. Basically their house got completely thrashed by Sandy. They lost virtually everything in it and to top it off (for whatever unknown bureaucratic reason) the entire house had been running on a generator until just a month or so ago. Seriously?! An FDNY house running on a generator…? These are the dudes that we need in fighting shape first so they can be there for the community should anything else happen. It's so damn obvious I feel stupid even writing it. They also lost everything in the house that made it a habitable place for them - refrigerator, work out equip, tools, furniture, computers, etc - all of which the guys stipend their paychecks into a general fund to buy! So after some time getting the Battalion Chief to let us help… they finally gave us the list of lost/damaged items. They had no expectations and I just said we will do our best at getting some of the things replaced for them. A month or so later, with the phenomenal financial support from a partner org called Fashion Girls For Humanity we drove back to the firehouse in a box truck loaded full with brand new replacements for most of the things they lost. They were blown away to get all that stuff and actually invited us to eat lunch with them after in their mess hall. It was a wonderful feeling to help get these guys back on their feet and I can’t thank all involved parties (especially Kikka and Julie from FGFH) enough for partnering up with us and supporting this initiative they way they did. The Battalion Chief (same one I’ve been fostering the relationship with since the beginning) came in that day specifically for this… He was so grateful for everything and said that it was the most help they’ve gotten from ANY source since the disaster. 
Aside from just replacing the things they lost my ultimate goal for this effort was to form a genuine long term rapport/relationship with them? Well, the Chief pulled me aside at the end of our lunch and gave me his personal cell number - he said that he is making his entire Battalion and resources available to us - whatever we need just call him. It will no doubt serve as an instrumental ally throughout our process of helping to put these communities back together… 
Lastly, I'd like to mention one of the great community programs that was created at our 96th St relief center in Rockaway by it's founder, Michelle Cortez. All the super markets (but one) in Rockaway got wiped out by Sandy - there is literally no place to buy fresh veggies or fruit for an entire 60 block stretch. Most people also lost their cars to sandy too which forces them to shop at their nearest corner deli through VERY limited inventory. So Michelle decided to start a Famers Market at the center on Sundays. She gets all the left over veggies and fruits donated from two large weekly markets in the city and then offers them to the residents in that cut off portion of Rockaway, free of charge. Not much more I need to say - a brilliant repurposing of resources and a simply wonderful service to provide people who've had their lives turned upside down…

Jon Rose

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