Some storm weary New Jersey communities will receive additional help from members of AmeriCorps. The national service organization was scheduled to pull out at the end of this month but New Jersey asked if it could stay longer.
”FEMA approved the extension through April,” said Luke Wigle, a crew supervisor who serves AmeriCorps through the Washington Conservation Corps. “The Corporation for National and Community Service is in the process of deploying more folks, and plans to get them in as soon as possible.”
“ Since shortly after Superstorm Sandy struck last October, more than 800 members of AmeriCorps—known as the “domestic Peace Corps”—have played a crucial role in New Jersey’s recovery by clearing sand and debris, gutting homes, and planting dune grass, all at no charge. Only about a dozen members remain in the state, and they’re leaving tomorrow, when the group’s deployment was to end.
It’s not known how many new AmeriCorps members will arrive but they will be appreciated. In battered parts of the Jersey Shore, many residents have come to rely on the young men and women, who wear their trademark yellow vests. Courtney Chibbaro, a community activist from South Seaside Park spearheaded the push for an extension. ”I’m extremely hopeful and grateful,” said Chibbaro, who has helped coordinate AmeriCorps’ work with local municipalities. “I felt it was unacceptable that AmeriCorps would have their mission assignment end while there is still so much need. Chibbaro said the state also is requesting long-term help from AmeriCorps beyond April.
AmeriCorps gets dirty
Five months after Superstorm Sandy tore across the Jersey Shore, the scars remain: homes with blue tarps tacked to the roof where shingles should be, a deck dangling from the side of a house, eerie silence at night in abandoned neighborhoods. Thousands of homes in northern Ocean County alone still need repair. Many have not been touched since Sandy flooded them.
On Saturday, AmeriCorps members wore respirators to protect against dangerous mold and dust particles, as they worked with community volunteers to gut a Seaside Heights condominium. Katie Vennie of the Texas Conservation Corps, who has been in New Jersey for two months, swept pieces of broken sheetrock from the floor, while other volunteers removed nails from the walls.
It’s messy, even potentially dangerous work, with an up side: a sense of real accomplishment. “I’ve liked it a lot. I feel fulfilled,” said Vennie. “All the people’s stories are so devastating. It feels really rewarding to be the one who gets to help them. I’m not going to charge any money. I’m just here to help.”
Launched during the Clinton administration, AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs, whose work includes playing leadership roles in helping communities recover from disasters.
Sandy Levine is a freelance writer and television producer who was born and raised at the Jersey Shore.