University students rebuild the Rockaways


Courtesy of Christian Halstead

Christian Halstead

This year, the University’s Center for Community Action and Research took a group of 14 students from both the New York City and Pleasantville campuses to Rockaway, Queens for the annual volunteer trip, appropriately named Alternative Spring Break. This was the fourth year in a row the ASB program traveled to Rockaway to help out the local community there. Rockaway was struck hard by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012. Hundreds of homes were severely damaged, some so badly that they were abandoned altogether. The eager group of University students who took on ASB this year paired up with a local non-profit relief program, the Friends of Rockaway, to help out however they could.

The trip began early on the morning of Monday, March 12 and lasted until mid-day Thursday, March 16. The group of 14 volunteer students were joined by CCAR’s New York City Program Coordinator Ashley Kuenneke and CCAR’s Pleasantville Program Coordinator Tyler Kalahar. The group stayed in Rockaway’s Surfside Motel, a short drive from the volunteer sites. The three-night, four-day trip was both productive and enjoyable for the ASB participants, and many of them expressed gratitude for the opportunity to help others in need.

On the first day, the group visited the warehouse and headquarters of the Friends of Rockaway. According to the group’s website, the Friends of Rockaway is “a community-based nonprofit organization founded in response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Rockaway Peninsula. Now operating as a local affiliate of the St. Bernard Project, we are rebuilding homes for Sandy-impacted families who were displaced from the storm and cannot afford to rebuild on their own.” The Friends of Rockaway began the day after Hurricane Sandy struck, as local residents Michael Sinensky and Evan Abel decided simply to begin helping their neighbors clean up the wreckage with the hopes of one day rebuilding. They were quickly joined by other locals who felt the need to do the same. Since then, the organization has miraculously worked to successfully clean up over 1000 homes, repair over 100, and rebuild 150.

Despite having to stay in the motel for the second day due to a snowstorm, the rest of the trip was spent working with representatives from the Friends of Rockaway to clear out and build up two homes still damaged from Hurricane Sandy. The group divided and conquered: half the students went to a site where drywall needed to be put up, while the other half worked to lay down floor tiling and put up doors in a soon-to-be finished basement.

Sabrina Cordova, Health Science Major and University freshman at the Pleasantville Campus, expressed a common sentiment felt among the student volunteers: when disaster hits, it truly is a humanitarian initiative to help out those affected as such devastation could happen to anyone. Cordova explained, “There is so much more to these clients than just numbers and they have gained a second family that will help them build up their home again, physically, emotionally, and mentally.”
Although Hurricane Sandy happened over four years ago, the people of Rockaway are still in need of help repairing in the wake of the storm’s near-total destruction of the town’s infrastructure and homes. It is easy to forgot that those who have been struck by natural disaster are still in need of help long after their story no longer makes the news. You can help those affected by Sandy by volunteering with or donating to the Friends of Rockaway. Better yet, consider volunteering for Alternative Spring Break next year! It truly is the experience of a lifetime.

Volunteers from the University pose in front of Rockaway Beach, Queens. Courtesy of CCAR NYC.
Volunteers from the University pose in front of Rockaway Beach, Queens. Courtesy of CCAR NYC.