Students lead trip to Staten Island to help recovery effort

BY SHIRA KIPNEES ’15
Staff Writer

During Spring break, the Catastrophic Relief Alliance (CRA) led a team of students to Staten Island, NY to help rebuild in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The trip was conducted in part because the family of a CRA member is involved with Staten Island’s effort to rebuild after the storm.

The trip, which lasted from March 9-12, brought 19 F&M students, staff, and a friend of the CRA to Staten Island to complete tasks such as gutting a house to allow it to be rebuilt, putting up sheetrock, delivering furniture to homes, and more.

“The goal of this trip was to help the local community of Staten Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” said Jocelyn Portillo ’15, a student leader for the CRA. “While this was a much shorter trip than other CRA trips typically run, we hoped we would supply enough help and work in the four days we had, and I have to say, personally, that I think despite the time limitation we achieved a great effort.”

The CRA had been planning on hosting a trip to either Staten Island or New Jersey to help with the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, where the damage from the storm is still highly visible months later. The organization decided to pursue this trip due to a connection to one of the club members, Joseph Cowan ’14, whose family lives in and was already working on rebuilding Staten Island after Sandy.

Several different organizations contributed to the CRA’s effort. F&M’s Klehr Center for Jewish Life donated air mattresses and sponsored the CRA’s last dinner on campus before leaving. The Stephen Siller Foundation, an organization based out of Staten Island, provided tools, supplies, and safety equipment. The CRA also received meals and support from the Cowan family.

The team took some time for relaxation while in Staten Island.

“Joseph Cowan showed us great spots to dine in, all of which were delicious and very Italian,” Portillo said. “His mother, Chrissy, was also a highlight of our trip as being an overall delightful person to work with and know, with a big heart who had taken great care of all of CRA. As a group we also took a sightseeing trip to NYC and worked our way through Chinatown and little Italy.”

Portillo praised the work ethic of CRA participants.

“Everyone in the group and anyone who decides to go on a CRA trip are always very enthusiastic to help, and it shows through their work ethic and their persistence,” she said.

Portillo also reflected on her experiences with the CRA and how it shaped her perspective on community service and rebuilding efforts.

“I love going on these trips, since my first trip to Bastrop, Texas in January,” Portillo said. “It was a unique experience that changed my outlook on relief work. I had never done something like this before. I thought ‘what can I do? I don’t have any skills!’ but I was surprised by how much could be done and how much an individual learns through a hands-on approach in these trips.”

Portillo thinks that everyone should participate in relief work at least once in their life while lauding the CRA’s efforts.

“CRA is a great group on campus, we strive to help the local community and have a great work ethic behind our program,” Portillo said. “I believe that this type of experience should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. I can say personally that CRA has had a great impact on myself and it has made me more aware of how any effort can have boundless positive effects on a community.”

The CRA hopes to continue to go to areas affected by disasters, wherever they occur, and help with relief efforts.

“We are optimistic that future service trips through F&M and CRA will happen; we are a small group, but we are very enthusiastic in our mission to help locally,” Portillo said. “With the help of F&M, I believe that CRA can do a lot in future endeavors.”

Questions? Email Shira at skipnees@fandm.edu.

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