AmeriCorps Lends a Hand in Ocean County‘People Helping People’
Immediately following Superstorm Sandy, a number of AmeriCorps members ages 18 to 25 traveled to the devastated areas in New Jersey and New York to offer a helping hand during the recovery process. Ocean County AmeriCorps Response, a group of 12 revolving members from Washington- and Minnesota-based organizations affiliated with the national program, has been offering free, immediate disaster relief assistance to local area residents who need help renovating their homes. Removing drywall, insulation and other debris as well as mitigating mold to help offset future building costs and potential health complications are the group’s main priorities at this time.
“It’s extremely rewarding to do this work because a lot of these people that we’re working for aren’t covered through their insurance, or don’t have the means to hire contractors,” said Sean Fleming, 23, crew leader of the Conservation Corps of Minnesota. “Some of them don’t have any family. To just be there for them and be able to do the work that’s easy for young people like us to do, like ripping out Sheetrock, is very gratifying,” he added.
“It’s a perfect match of things young people are suited to do and should be doing to help communities recover from a major disaster like this,” agreed Steve Petrich, 22, a crewmember of the Washington Conservation Corps. “It's kind of cool; people have gotten out of the whole ‘society thing’ because everything’s gotten destroyed, and now it’s people helping people.”
The organization is seeking philanthropists to help set up volunteer reception centers in both Southern and Northern Ocean County, which the members are hoping will continue to offer support to local residents following AmeriCorps’ imminent departure.
The group is currently working alongside Jetty, a local apparel company based in Little Egg Harbor Township, and Waves for Water, a nonprofit organization from Los Angeles dedicated to providing assistance to disaster-impacted communities around the world. The groups have been coordinating many of Long Beach Island’s outreach efforts following the storm.
“The nature of our presence here is temporary,” said Adam Hein, 27, a crew supervisor for the Washington Conservation Corps. “We’re here to help facilitate local organizations with their recovery efforts. Setting up a reception center and potentially some long-term volunteer housing so we can bring in some people willing to do the work is one thing (we’re working on). It kind of depends on who takes over when we leave. The goal is for us to build enough relations in the community to where we can hand it over to people that will run things after we’re gone,” he explained.
The Ocean County AmeriCorps Response team is currently looking for help from anyone who is eligible to work in confined crawlspace areas, as well as persons who are qualified to work with asbestos removal.
Personal protective equipment, including P-100 respirators, safety glasses and Tyvek suits, is needed to outfit volunteers up and down the coast.
“We don’t come with a lot of funding or resources. We come with manpower to help organize and facilitate things,” said Hein. “We’re doing as much work as we can in the field right now; there are lots of boots on the ground. We follow one contact until they dry up, and then we find more. That’s what we’re here for,” he added.
AmeriCorps is also strongly urging volunteer groups to document the number of hours each person works for the purpose of helping to offset the state’s disaster costs. According to officials, depending on the type of work volunteers perform, FEMA will deduct $15 to $25 an hour per volunteer, as part of its Public Assistance Grant Program.
Although information regarding the turn-in process for those hours is still unknown, Jerry Buker, 27, team leader for the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, said volunteer groups should document the names, dates, hours, tasks, locations and types of power equipment used for each volunteer working with them.
Anyone who needs disaster relief assistance or is interested in volunteering with Ocean County AmeriCorps Response should call 732-804-9859. For more information regarding FEMA’s PA Program, visit fema.gov.
— Kelley Anne Essinger