A year after Sandy, figuring out how to help

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 A core group of Long Beach Island volunteers from l-r Molly McBride, Chris and Elaine Atlee, Kerri Beetel, Kyle Gronostajski, and Brian Coen. (Photography by Ann Coen)

A core group of Long Beach Island volunteers from l-r Molly McBride, Chris and Elaine Atlee, Kerri Beetel, Kyle Gronostajski, and Brian Coen. (Photography by Ann Coen)

At some point, the remaining aid organizations will leave the Jersey Shore. But a year after Superstorm Sandy, the way forward for those who want to continue to help is anything but clear.

“We may be planning our exit strategy, but we’re not exiting,” said Jon Rose, the founder of Waves for Water, a nonprofit organization that works on disaster relief and clean-water projects around the world. “We’ll be around and accessible. I may be in Brazil working on our projects there, but still totally accessible.”

 Rose was speaking to a few dozen Long Beach Island residents who gathered for a pot-luck dinner on a recent evening. They were mostly young, in their 20s to 30s; many were surfers. All are still working to put their communities back together.

For roughly the first two months after Sandy, that meant spending every spare minute gutting homes.

“Basically, the world had kind of stopped,” explained Jon Coen, a freelance writer who lives in Ship Bottom. “There was nothing to do but just start tearing up carpets, cutting out the Sheetrock, figuring out what needed to be done. Get that house so that mold was not going to grow, give the person a hug, and move on to the next house.”

The next step for this group of friends and neighbors was beach and bay cleanups, followed by spreading the word that Long Beach Island was ready for summer tourists.

All the work had a renegade spirit to it.

“For lack of a better word, it was kind of lawless,” said Coen. “These things that you’d normally need to ask permission for, we just started doing them. We were obviously doing it trying to clean our community and trying to help people for the greater good.”

“The recovery efforts are just part of our day-to-day now,” agreed Cory Higgins, one of the owners of Jetty,  a surf gear company. He helped create a “Unite and Rebuild” T-shirt after the storm. The company sold 2,500 shirts within 24 hours of launching the shirt. For the next three days, it averaged two sales per minute.

“We found out very quickly that we can’t just go and spend $5,000 at Costco, go and give it to shelters and then come tax time go and say, ‘Oh yeah, hey, we donated that money,'” said Higgins. “It doesn’t work like that.”

Out of that realization, Higgins and his colleagues created a nonprofit, the Jetty Rock Foundation. Combined, the foundation and the company have raised more than $315,000 for Sandy relief.

Tackling the next round of Sandy-related issues

Now, a year after the storm, there’s still a tremendous amount of work still to be done, but the needs have changed. The tasks are bigger, harder to tackle in a weekend.

So what goes on the to-do list and what’s left to someone else?

That’s what Waves for Water’s Jon Rose was trying to help figure out. Because he’s worked in similar situations before, he’s become a mentor for the group.

“You’re going to have a lot of people coming at you, like, ‘You guys helped so long and you did so much and we’re in need,'” he said.

“So how do you say no to that?” asked Ann Marie Coen, a photographer and president of the Jetty Rock Foundation.

“The way you say no to it is say, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re doing these two things,'” said Rose, suggesting the group might consider tightening its focus, creating a mission statement that defines who it helps.

However, its members have already done so much work to aid the recovery in so many different directions.

At the meeting, one member said he’s working on a plan with his town to improve communication with residents during future storms. Another has joined the Chamber of Commerce to market the island more effectively in the future. Others are thinking about how to find winter rentals for those still living in their gutted homes. This fall, the Jetty Rock Foundation handed out new backpacks with gift cards to roughly 80 children whose families were still struggling to recover from Sandy.

“Everyone says, and I believe this, you make change, it starts in your own back yard,” said Elizabeth Burke Beaty, a Holgate resident who has organized a support group for local storm survivors and hopes to expand it to other towns. “OK, so we made that happen, so now how can we make that bigger?”

What use is rebuilding your home, she says, if your community is still in tatters?

For more information about the damage Long Beach Island sustained during Sandy, as well as local recovery efforts, check out the film: Landfall: The Eyes of Sandy

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