Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rockaways Thanksgiving 2012

To all who want to volunteer but think they can't,
 You can.

  My name is Allison Rodgers and I am currently a college student who had the good fortune of hearing Alison Thompson speak about the disaster in Rockaways, NY. I originally heard about Hurricane Sandy on the news and then like the rest of the country focused my attention on the elections. Coming from Florida I've seen hurricanes, some worse than others, and thought that Sandy would be just like the others here in Florida; a tree here, a power-line there, no big deal ... I was so wrong.
   When Alison Thompson was describing what Rockaways looked like, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Phrases such as "Armageddon", " like a bomb went off", and "total destruction" kept being repeated and somewhere in the midst of her presentation I decided I was going to at least see if I could go.  Thankfully, my parents were very generous because as soon as I described what was going on and that I wanted to go and help my dad started doing research on plane tickets to NY. So now there was really no turning back!
  The bus ride into Rockaways was shocking because I had never seen a U.S city look like a disaster zone. People of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and other variants all had dollies stacked high with the most basic needs: blankets, water, canned food, etc.  I started to notice, though, the further along the bus ride went the more destruction I saw. Sides of the highway had debris and cars smashed together and everywhere you looked there was sand. In particular, I remember seeing a McDonald's that had been boarded up with the message "Nothing here to take ... Trust me save your energy ... Someone beat you here already" on the plywood covering the broken windows.  That's around the time that I started to realize that I was entering something really serious.
  Finally, I get to 129th St. Francis, which is where I was going to be doing my volunteer work. While everything else around it was destroyed (literally, there's two homes that burned down right next to it) the school/ church was a safe haven for locals. I saw smiles for the first time since entering Queens, there was music, there was the smell of delicious food ... but as a volunteer, this is where my real adventure started. I immediately started asking around for the names of people I was given to be in contact with. Eventually, I was given a job in the donation tent and got into contact with other volunteers. It was starting to get dark and I decided that I needed to find a place to stay within Rockaways so that I didn't have to keep doing the 3 hour route from Brooklyn (where I was crashing at a friend's) to  Rockaways for the rest of my time there. Somehow, a volunteer heard my story, found me and told me of a house where volunteers could stay (Karen from Slovenia, if you ever read this I cannot thank you enough because you introduced me to what I now consider my New York family)
  Karen and I knocked on the door and as soon as people came out we said that we were volunteers. Before I knew what was going on, I was being offered a complete Thanksgiving meal, a place to sit, and a place to sleep. I should mention that this was a home directly on the beach, where damage was the most severe. This family had been through hell, had their life torn apart and on Thanksgiving Day they gave a complete stranger a meal, excellent company, and a place to sleep. This, above all else, is what has made me believe in the magic of volunteering. It was complete fate, luck, whatever you want to call it, that this family and I found each other. What I'm starting to realize, though, is that this is what makes humanitarian causes work. If you show an effort to help or even a genuine willingness to show compassion someone will hear it.
  The fear and nervousness I had before leaving for New York is minute to the love and happiness that came from sharing four days out of my life (that would have included me sitting on my butt watching TV anyways) with the most amazing family. I ended up staying at that house for the remainder of my time in Rockaways but had I not stayed with that family, I am 100% certain that the other volunteers would have become my family or I would have found comradery with someone somewhere . The point being is that I have found  when people put themselves out there to help, there will always some form of response. From that response you will find friendship, love, and respect in abundance unlike anywhere else in your life. If you were ever thinking of volunteering but were stuck contemplating  the things you might 'lose'(money, time, etc), please re-evaluate and imagine the joy you will bring to those who need it most. I should clarify and say, you won't be bringing joy to those people - you will be sharing it with them. That's the best part! Volunteering is not a one-sided venture (not if you do it right, anyways). Get to know the people and chances are you'll end up feeling like they helped you just as much as you helped them.
 In particular, I would like to call upon my fellow 20 something-year-olds: We, more than anybody else have the freedom to give time and volunteer. We have energy, motivation, and skills in abundance - how else do you think we party so hard and ace that test the next morning?! Take some time, make some time, whatever you need to do and let's make a difference. Organize a donation fundraiser in your city or on your campus if there isn't already one and if there's already one get involved! The people you meet will be so much more worth your time than the people doing keg stands at your friend of a friend's party. Worried about what your parents will think if you say you want to take some time out of winter break to help volunteer? YOUR PARENTS WILL LOVE IT! Parents love knowing they raised a caring, thoughtful, and giving child. Plus, it gives them something to brag about at their next luncheon. Chances are, you could probably get them involved too. If they're worried about you missing out on time with them (which is understandable) then assure them that you'll be there for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, etc. but for two or three days out of a two and half week break you're going to go help fellow human beings. We can do this. We can help. We can watch Jersey Shore's last four episodes after we give a few days out of our year to make a difference (trust me, MTV will be playing those on repeat for a while). Let's do this! 

Specifically, I would like to give thanks to the family who took me in but will omit last names for privacy reasons: Christine, Leslie, Howard, Rochelle, Tim, Uncle James, Ren, Jeff,  Jillian, and Matthew - you have changed my life. The open and willing nature of your family to let me in has taken my breath away and I can guarantee you have made a friend for life. 

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