Here for Home: Union Beach; Relief program still going strong months after hurricane

A Salvation Army volunteer embraces the College’s volunteers from the Here for Home campaign. (Photo Courtesy of hereforhome.pages.tcnj.edu)

Here for Home, a campaign that is dedicated to helping aid in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, officially began at the College on Nov. 1, 2012. On that day, approximately 45 people, the majority of whom were students, attended Here for Home’s first meeting and were eager to help.

During its initial weeks, the campaign responded to requests for assistance from towns including Belmar, Point Pleasant Beach, Hazlet, Manasquan, Toms River, Neptune and Brick. Volunteers participated in multiple service activities which included gutting homes, removing debris, door-to-door canvassing and installing sheetrock, according to Pat Donohue, assistant provost for Community Engaged Learning Programs.

However, the program is now focusing its efforts on Union Beach and Ortley Township.

“The unemployment rate in Union Beach was 20 percent before the storm,” Donohue said. “And Ortley Beach is home to 1,600 full-time residents, who were among the last to have access to their properties on the Barrier Island due to the level of destruction.”

On Saturday, Jan. 26, a group of volunteers from the College spent the day at Union Beach gutting five apartments in a senior citizen’s complex that have been uninhabitable since the storm.

“I really loved breaking down and ripping out walls,” said Tarika Mahal, sophomore history pre-med major and Bonner Scholar. “It felt great to see our progress and help those who physically could not do this work for their homes.”

Although difficult, volunteers believe that spending their days rebuilding areas of New Jersey that have been affected by the hurricane is incredibly important.

“I am a busy college student who could have definitely used the extra hours of sleep on a Saturday morning, but instead I woke up at 7:30 and smashed drywall. And ripped up carpets. And broke tiles,” Mahal said. “All these things were so much more memorable and beneficial to myself and others than my few extra hours of sleep.”

Since its initiation, the Here for Home campaign has greatly expanded. According to Stephanie Kraver, ‘12,  an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow for the Bonner Center, 296 volunteers have signed up to be on the campaign’s regular mailing list. And to date, more than 300 people have participated in nearly 20 service days or events, totaling approximately 1,400 hours of service.

However, these figures do not include the work of other clubs and groups that have started their own volunteer projects. In fact, to date, Here for Home has 1,668 members in its Facebook group, according to Kraver.

“I firmly believe that volunteering is our civic responsibility. TCNJ prepares us for our future professional life, but does so much more than that,” said sophomore psychology major and Bonner Scholar Regina Zick.

Here for Home was also very successful last semester. Students and faculty donated over 4,000 pounds of supplies, donations through the dining service’s card swipe campaign raised $3,195 worth of supplies, and the student-designed ReNew Jersey T-shirt sale raised $1,387 in cash. All of these funds help cover the costs for service supplies, such as gloves and garbage bags, as well as transportation.

In addition, the Student Finance Board has allocated $15,000 that will send 15 busloads of volunteers to work on relief projects throughout the spring semester, according to Donohue. Here for Home is also planning to create an Alternative Spring Break trip for students to engage in relief efforts.

Also, last semester student groups and organizations held various fundraising events such as a Zumbathon held by TW fitness instructor Carmella Holl, a caroling fundraiser held by LDP, and various other events held by numerous sororities and fraternities.

“I am extremely impressed with the campus’s capacity to unite under one cause. We have worked with countless groups on campus, expanding to different individuals, and even to some freshman floors that have consistently helped out,” Zick said.

For students and faculty who wish to volunteer, there will be sign-ups in the Brower Student Center the week of Jan. 28 in order to reserve a seat on one of the 15 buses going to the shore during the spring semester.

“We as people have a common obligation to help our fellow citizens in times of need,” Mahal said. “There is no better cause than this.”

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