All Hands makes it easy to volunteer, and for the individual volunteer to have an impact. I found that out the first time I volunteered with All Hands, in the Philippines—even though I was only there for 10 days, I felt like every day was an opportunity to be really useful. I was happy to hear that All Hands was coming to New York, because I knew that their thorough assessment process would allow me to volunteer in an effective way.
Volunteering in my own city is not all that different from volunteering in a foreign country, but it’s more personal because I could have easily been one of the people I’m now assisting. We were lucky not to have been terribly affected in my neighborhood, and I am lucky to be in a position to help my neighbors who weren’t as fortunate.
It has only been a few days since the storm went through and I’m still stunned. At the moment, I’m trying to juggle deadlines for clients and get out into the community. I live in a borough that was hit pretty hard. DUMBO is about 5 feet from the water. Even though people took precautions, they were still affected quite badly.
I’ve been trying to help clear up the areas around the park. Just trying to make it safer for people to take their kids back there. It’s overwhelming, you know? I’ve been an All Hands volunteer and served in Japan after the tsunami, which was beyond what I could describe. It was terrible. But even though I’ve been to those places and seen what I’ve seen, it’s so different when it’s your own doorstep. It’s so difficult.
When you’ve actually sat through a storm and the windows feel like they’re going to break in on you and you see the damage down your own street and then you see the horrific damage on the news, you have the realization of what just went over you. It feels different. It’s more humbling and scary that this just bound through here and we sat through it all.
Many of us haven’t gotten power back. The neighborhood is still flooded from end to end and there’s no gas, so you can’t drive anywhere to get groceries. It’s hard to explain. It’s different than showing up as a volunteer a couple of weeks afterward and helping out. It’s so much more personal and more difficult.
I definitely encourage people to get out and volunteer, because that is my therapy right now. It’s definitely helping me to deal with it. It helps physically and also mentally to deal with what you’ve just been through.
When I volunteered after Katrina, I was watching the disaster unfold on the news and thought, “I can’t sit by and watch this. I have to experience this. I can’t imagine what people are going through.” When Sandy came here, I guess it helped that I was prepared for what I would see. But to see your friends’ houses or to see people you’ve known your whole life and watching them empty their basement and lose stuff, you can feel it a little deeper. It’s more personal.
For me, the experience at home opens my eyes that we really have amazing volunteers. People have such goodness and want to help each other. Bumping into people you know out there is incredible. We can all relate how close it was. You didn’t have to go to the other side of the country—you could go around the corner and see people who needed help.
When I came home from Katrina, no one really got it. This time, everyone is affected. I can’t believe this could happen to my home. I had seen it before, but you never think it would be in your backyard. It does feel good to be able help your neighbors when they are in need and I think it makes them more comfortable to have a fellow New Yorker with them helping them out.
When I volunteered in Leogane with All Hands, it changed my life in such a big way I knew that I had to volunteer again. I came out of that experience feeling so grateful for things that I had taken for granted… clean water, a cozy bed, a roof over my head. In addition to a new appreciation for what I had considered the little things, I made good friends there and I really felt like I had helped in my own small way.
When Sandy hit, I spent the first week answering phones for the Red Cross, directing people to shelters. I felt so helpless as I listened to their stories. Many had no home left, no transportation, and finding their next meal was a challenge. It sure didn’t feel like I was talking to people in New York City. I knew that as soon as All Hands was ready to launch a project, I’d be on board. How could I not? My neighbors needed help.
It’s a little surreal each time I volunteer, leaving my part of the city where everything returned to normal about a week after the storm, to head out to Staten Island or Long Beach. The contrast is startling actually and I’ll admit, I feel a little guilty coming back to a clean, warm, dry house after working side by side with folks who no longer have that luxury. I want to bring them all home with me!
I had not been able to return to Haiti nor go on another All Hands project because I had work and family obligations. Working on Project Sandy has allowed me to honor those obligations AND reap the benefits that volunteering brings…I have a renewed appreciation for the little things, once again I’m making new friends and I really do feel like I’m helping.
In the past when I’ve volunteered with All Hands, I’ve gone for days or weeks at a time: I’ve put my job and home life on hold and immersed myself in All Hands work for however long I’ve been able to get away. For this project, I sneak off during the day to help gut a house where the water reached eight feet or more, and then come home in the evening to check e-mail and meet deadlines in my undamaged, power-connected apartment. It’s strange, and different—and it makes me realize just how easily anyone’s life can change, and how any of us at any time could find ourselves in need of somebody else’s willing help.
In the days after the storm, I felt like I had to do something—it was the same feeling I had after Hurricane Katrina, when I first found All Hands. But here I was in my hometown, and though there was need almost everywhere I looked, I couldn’t figure out the best place to direct my efforts. Then All Hands announced Project Staten Island, and I breathed a sigh of relief. With All Hands, you can be a random volunteer with no particular skills beyond a willingness to help, and no matter how little or how much time you have to offer, you will absolutely make a difference in people’s lives, starting immediately.
Every time I’ve arrived at an All Hands volunteer project, I’ve felt like I was coming home. Well, this time All Hands came to my home. Thanks, all.