When Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, we knew it was bad. Friends and loved ones utilized social media to communicate out stories and photos on a minute by minute basis. We knew exactly when the flood waters washed into homes, damaging property and destroying dreams.
But not only were homes destroyed, but schools were devastated as well. Some, to this day, are still closed and unable to support their students. Some are being used as temporary shelters for those displaced families. And even those that are open are struggling, for though they have walls and desks, they have no learning materials, no books, no computers, no paper. For so many children who have lost so much, a school can be the safest place, an emotional haven, for their school is their community. It’s not only where they learn; it’s the place where they find friends and mentors, and thus, their sense of identity and self. Sometimes, school is the sole or primary constant in a child’s life. They rely on the routine of the daily schedule and in some sense of the predictability of expectations (of their behavior, of what they will be learning and experiencing, of place). But right now, that small comfort is gone.
And that’s where my friend Julie Bergin (Mom Congress NY 2012) stepped in. She created “Schools Adopting Schools in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy.” Schools that are in need fill out a form and are matched with schools groups or districts throughout the country who feel that they can meet some, if not all, of those needs. You can join their open group on Facebook, and find daily updates about the work being done.
According to Julie, their group has been able to match five school districts with supporters. However, this is just the “tip the iceberg” as Julie is contacted on a hourly basis by parents, community members, school board personal, and teachers, who indicate that they have needs. Julie says her biggest struggle at the moment is that while she is trying to connect with the schools in need, unfortunately some are still without power, or means of communication. It may be that your school needs assistance. If so, please reach out to Julie at email@example.com and she will add you to the list.
Many students are now homeless and have relocated to other schools and school districts, and as a result, those schools need support as well. While Julie and her family weathered the storm with minor damage and her children’s school is still operable (although closed for two weeks due to a lack of electricity), there are countless people in the school community who still need help. Her twelve year old son’s Religious Ed instructor’s house was flooded, and the school where he takes his classes (in a neighboring district) has an inoperable high and elementary schools, thus displacing approximately a thousand students, as well as their faculty and staff. The hardest part for Julie’s sons was hearing his teacher relate a story about another student who suddenly found himself homeless.
While I understand that we all have needs in our own communities (and certainly my email inbox is filled with requests for financial and volunteer support), I know that if my community was directly impacted, my friend Julie would move heaven and earth to help. I can do no less for her. She has worked tirelessly to get the word out and to get these children school supplies which will create a sense of stability and normalcy while they are adjusting to a new normal, one of which that has yet to be truly defined and will impact their sense of self and place forever.
So, reach out to your school parent group, your school board member, and your superintendent. Ask if there is some way they can help, whether it is by sending the basics or by supporting efforts to purchase new school buses. Encourage your student leaders who are a part of Beta Club or Student Council to adopt a school as a service learning project. Reach out to a company in your community that might be willing to assist as well. For instance, Scholastic is going to donate 1 Million books to schools and libraries. National PTA has a grant opportunity available to PTA/PTSAs in good standing. Parent leaders like Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar (Mom Congress Texas 2012), Natalie Slack (MC South Dakota 2012), Lyssa Turner Sahadevan (Mom Congress GA 2011) and many others have rallied their schools and districts to provide support.
Certainly major efforts are underway via the American Red Cross as well as this weekend by the Clinton Foundation (encouraging and supporting a Day of Service on November 18, 2012), but the truth is that every effort, every donation makes a difference.
“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: the first is to help yourself, the second is to help others” – Audrey Hepburn