Last week, I visited three Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The extent of the devastation was staggering. With Thanksgiving days away, I was reminded of all we have to be thankful for in our lives and how special life is to us all.
The day after Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey shore, a staff member paddles by the Hoboken Club to check on the building.
But what moved me most was Club staff members’ sheer inner fortitude and will to overcome almost insurmountable circumstances for the benefit of our children. These amazing individuals’ unflagging spirit enabled them to triumph over the harsh hand they’d been dealt. Many buildings and institutions in these communities won’t open their doors for a long time – far longer than it took our Clubs to clean up, rebuild and figure out a way to re-open or find an alternative Club for kids to attend.
On the Jersey shore, Executive Director Mekos Denson took us through the Chelsea Unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City. After investing in renovations to give members a better Club experience, five-foot high flood waters had gutted the facility. With the unit closed indefinitely, the top priority is to coordinate transportation for Chelsea’s 100-plus members to the crosstown Pennsylvania Unit. Kids have been calling like crazy to find out when they can come back.
Despite major water and wind damage, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Union County re-opened in Union just days after Sandy hit. The storm tore off three roofs and did significant harm to the after-school Learning Center, swimming pool and two gymnasiums. CEO Russell Triolo credited the quick restart to staff members working around the clock to remove debris.
Three feet of water, courtesy of Sandy, left tons of mud and debris, destroying the gym floor in Hoboken.
In Hoboken, Executive Director Gary Greenberg led us through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hudson County’s local unit. The destruction was stunning. Three-foot high flood waters had wiped out the ground floor, including the recently renovated Teen Center. An NBA-quality maple wood gym floor that Club youth took such pride in was now covered in grimy rubble.
On first seeing the facility, one staff member shared, he’d wondered if it was over in Hoboken, where kids need the Club so much. But dedicated professionals like Wafa Hubroman wouldn’t let that happen. Once the roads were drivable, the Unit Director began working 14-hour days to get the Club operating – despite no power or water at her home or at the Club.
It was also Wafa who arranged transportation for Hoboken members to their sister Club in Jersey City, impressing on them to respect their peers as part of the larger Club organization. The kids got along pretty well in Jersey City, where about 265 of them broke bread at the Club’s 37th annual Thanksgiving Dinner. Before serving them dinner, board volunteers greeted arriving Club kids with a receiving line of high-fives.
What I saw at these Clubs proved what I already knew deep inside. What we do at Boys & Girls Clubs is far more than a job. No matter what, we are here to serve the kids who need us the most. It was an emotional day, filled with hope and inspiration amid the brutal results of this natural disaster. I’ll never forget it.