“I never realized how big of an impression people can leave on you in just four days.” ASB ’17, Day 4: Christian Halstead, Duke Huang, Sandra Garcia, Marla Texeira, & Sophia Guo

Christian Halstead ’20, Philosophy & Economics, NYC Campus

Today was a great way to close out Alternative Spring Break 2017. We woke up early as per usual, but it was a non-issue given how excited we all were to begin our final day of work. My group arrived at Mrs. Katz’s house and picked up right where we left off. Everyone already knew their job, and took pride in it. Daniel and I continued our work in the basement bedroom laying down tile flooring. Given the enormous difficulty we ran up against yesterday (some angles of the tiles were off which caused a detrimental ripple effect for the rest of the flooring), we felt like experts at the task and were eager to complete it. Within only a few hours we have finished what we started and couldn’t be more proud. The rewards of seeing the finished product and knowing we were helping someone who truly deserved it, made the challenges we faced more than worth it. We continued on to other jobs and were very productive right up until we left. We then ate at the Bungalow Bar a few miles from our work site. By this time through the trip we were all well acquainted and laughed our way through the meal. On the way home it was no different and, as we approached Manhattan in the midst of a beautiful sunset over downtown skyscrapers, I knew this experience would stay with us forever.

Duke Huang ’20, Peace & Justice Studies, NYC Campus

“ASB 2017 changed my life!” as dramatic as it sounds, it absolutely did.

The most important thing in this trip is not about what I did, but what I learned. It made me rethink about the role of government and non-profit organization in this kind of emergency context.

As a person who grew up in a tiny island, which sticks between the biggest ocean and the biggest continent, hurricanes are like those annoying faraway family members who come visit us couple times a year, and all they bring is trouble. Most of the times these hurricanes are harmless, but there were times when the streets were flooding and people were dying, and the situations were just like what the Sandy Hurricane did to Rockaway. Governments miscalculated the damages, missed the timing of assisting victims and failed to provide enough of supplies. Those whom the residents could rely on were their neighbors. They helped each other survive, shared their supplies and provided emotional supports.

However, the one thing people could not share is money, especially when the numbers have over six zeros. The renovation fees for their houses, the mortgages and the rents for apartments in New York destroyed and torn apart the dreams and lives of those victims of Sandy Hurricane. Governments blamed the insurance companies for not doing their jobs paying victims money; insurance companies argued that governments’ assessments were not clear and problematic. No one was willing to help the residents of Rockaway, except Friends of Rockaway (FoR) and Saint Bernard Project (SBP). They are the only few organizations that still remain in Rockaway and assist local residents getting back on their feet by renovating their houses, providing comprehensive support programs and charging lower prices than market standard.

We visited the warehouse of FoR on the first day of our trip, meeting the staffs who dedicate ten months of their lives to help others strengthened the goal of mine of working in non-profit organization. I was amazed by the complex systems of coordination between volunteers, contractors and houses that need to be built, the detailed schedules of renovation of houses and their accomplishment of building about seventy-five houses last year and seven so far this year. That day ended with checking into the motel.

The second day was supposed to be the first day of us working in the houses, but due to the “not-so-much blizzard warning,” we spent the whole day staying in the motel. However, instead of wasting time, we watched two documentaries about the impacts of post-Sandy Hurricane on victims, and climate change. We had several meaningful discussions surrounding the topics of the documentaries which lasted for hours, thereafter we felt that we were still mentally capable of dealing with challenges; we played poker, and used scraps of paper plates as chips.

On the third day morning, after a brief but semi-comprehensive tutorial of what we would be doing, we started working in the work site. What our group did was placing dry-wood on the wooden studs to create the basic walls. Measuring the length, cutting the woods, adjusting the measurement, screwing the woods onto the studs and making mistakes were what our group was doing. The processes were both mentally and physically challenging, but at the end of the day, the sense of pride of seeing the walls that we created was priceless. During dinner, we were joining by local reporter who experienced Sandy Hurricane, Dan Guarino. He provided his personal experiences and insights onto this issue, which were both very interesting and worth contemplating, since it was rare and extraordinary for people who experienced a disastrous disaster and gave a speech in a pizza place almost five years later. Later that night, we abandoned the paper plates and embraced the usefulness of large number and shape of Cheerios, and used it as our chips for our intelligent card games.

On the final day, Joe and I picked up what we had left on the previous day at the work site, but due to the limitation of time, we were unable to finish the wall, which we had originally given up. Our group traveled to the work site of our other group and assisted them. Their work was completely different from ours. They replaced the original, problematic tiles with new and perfect tiles, and other furnished works. Their work site was bright, warm, clean and lighthearted, which was completely the opposite of our work site. After finishing all the work, we headed to the Bungalow Bar, where we celebrated and enjoyed the free delicious food (and drink).

The work that FoR and SBP have done since the disaster happened are incredibly important for the lives of residents in Rockaway, without them, thousands of people would live with no house and bare astronomical debt. However, with the climate changing, increasing number of hurricanes similar to Sandy might hit United States more often in the future. The best way for the government to respond to the disaster is to prepare for the worst, act immediately after the damages have been done, and rehabilitate the victims by providing well-integrated assisting programs. As for non-profit organizations, they should be in assistance of government, and cooperate with other grassroots organizations to maintain their effectiveness in devastated communities.

Marla Texeira ’18, Peace & Justice Studies, NYC Campus

Ughh, I don’t even know where to begin! I am writing this one day after Alternative Spring Break 2017 ended and as I look back there is one thing that stood out to me both with our Pace family and the Friends of Rockaway (SBP) volunteers, and that was the value of team work. I consider myself to be very independent and I normally try to do everything I can by myself thinking that it is the only way things will get done right and believe me, I was not expecting to be proven wrong over the period of four days. Fortunately enough I was and I never knew before this trip the joy that could come from letting go and trusting others to help with a project that means so much to you. Not only did we form our own little team of installing floors (Majam was our name haha) but we were also great at it! We got it done so perfectly, so rapidly and we had so much fun! I know it’s hard to believe that doing construction work can be exciting but trust me when I tell you I couldn’t wait to get out of bed and head over to the work site.

The other part I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would love the downtime with the whole group and all our adventures: late night poker matches, adventures through the snow to get coffee and ice cream, the inside jokes and of course, the many laughs shared. I know I won’t lose touch with the friends I made on this trip and I won’t ever forget the memories we made.

The trip did have a downside: Thursday afternoon when we all said goodbye to SBP and each other and got back on the bus to come home. I never realized how big of an impression people can leave on you in just four days but it did make me come to a conclusion: I need to come back! Alternative Spring Break was such a great experience and I hope my words did it justice. I’ll see you soon Rockaways!!

Sandra Garcia ’20, Criminal Justice, PLV Campus

After meeting the members of Friends of Rockaway/SBP and going over what their purpose is in the community, on Wednesday the 15th we were divided into two groups to go help rebuild two houses. The group I was part of went to Mrs Katz house in Queens which was damaged during Super Storm Sandy. Mrs Katz’s house had been previously reconstructed but the floors were damaged and they needed to be fixed again. Our group took off the trims in order to pull up the floors and redo them. We installed new floors in the living room, kitchen and part of the hallway. After the new floor was finished we put back the trims and door jams. Putting the trims back was my favorite part.

Prior to this trip I was not aware of the struggles people are still going through four years after the storm. I though the storm damages were already reconstructed in every community affected, not knowing that there’s people who are still hoping to get their homes fixed. The sad part is that they just keep on waiting to get their homes rebuild for a long period of time. As the members of the SBP organization explained that some families are still on the wait-list to get their homes rebuilt, I though of how would be to be in these people shoes and the only thing I could think of was that I would be so desperate to go back home.

This situation is shocking because I’d think that in a situation like this there would be more help to rebuild what was damaged by the storm. Instead people were left on their own to find a way to fix their homes. I am just glad that there are organizations like Friends of Rockaway who are helping as many people as they can. Alternative spring break has given me an forgettable experience, I was not only able to learn new things from this trip but I was able to dedicate time to help others in need.

Sophia Guo ’20, Accounting, PLV Campus

Alternative Spring Break 2017 has come to an end. On our final day, the two groups went back to the volunteer site to finish what we started the day before. For my group, we finished the flooring, where we placed tiles, and put in door frames at Ms. Katz’s basement. Her previous floor was ruined due to water damage. At the end of the day, we were able to finish installing brand new tiles on the floor and put up majority of the door frames with the help of the other group who came by to help. It was such as satisfying moment when you stand back to look back at the beautiful work that you’ve done, and compare it to how it looked prior. In the middle of work I was able to say hello to the owner of the house, Ms. Katz. She was so nice and it was such an amazing feeling to know that she’s gonna be able to come home to new basement. After the work day ended, we all went to Bungalow Bar for dinner to celebrate the ending. This has been an unforgettable experience and was so much better than staying in my dorm over Spring Break.