July 11, 2013
by Josh Dempsey -'16
Two hundred and twenty-two days after Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in United States history, devastated the East Coast of the United States, members of the Notre Dame community laced up their work boots and immersed them in Sayreville, N.J. to help pick up the pieces of still devastated neighborhoods and broken homes.
In an effort put together by Notre Dame Student Welfare and Development, Notre Dame Alumni Clubs of Central New Jersey and the Jersey Shore Club, and Our Lady of Victories parish, Notre Dame student-athletes from New Jersey and members of Notre Dame Alumni Clubs participated in a weekend-long project to help New Jersey “Restore the Shore.”
Imagine the house where you and all your best friends would gather at—be it your own house or the house of one of those many friends. Or maybe it was a park, or an aged oak tree with a beat up tire swing and a creaky tree house. These are the items and places we attach meaning to because of the time and memories we have invested in them.
Now imagine all these gone, broken, wiped out in a matter of minutes. This was the feeling experienced by innumerable New Jersey residents who saw their houses destroyed by Mother Nature during Hurricane Sandy’s Atlantic Coast blitzkrieg.
The Jersey Shore Pier, a place symbolizing innocence and fun, was tossed and broken amid the 90 mile per hour winds and rain. Clean-up for such a disaster-ridden region would not be quick, and it would not be easy. It was for this reason that members of the Notre Dame community took part in restoration efforts on June 7-9. They hold New Jersey very dear to their hearts, and want to contribute where and when they can.
This project had a particular significance on Notre Dame baseball player, Kyle Rubbinaccio. “There are two things I couldn’t love more: My school, and where I come from; Notre Dame and New Jersey,” he said.
Carly Piccinich, a member of the Fighting Irish softball team, shared similar sentiments, and remarked “Going down the shore was always a nice escape, but seeing how damaged it was, and the damage done to friends’ and other residents’ houses, was heartbreaking to see.”
This experience was not just an immersion or mission trip; it was a trip home for these student-athletes. But home was different this time; they were no longer passing through suburban neighborhoods where friends or relatives live, they were passing through areas no longer recognizable as what they used to be—houses have been abandoned, lawns left uncared for, and families left to attempt to return to normalcy.
Kyle Rubbinaccio, a New Jersey resident and Irish baseball player, was glad for the opportunity to help friends and neighbors clean up from the aftereffects of the second costliest storm in U.S. history.
The Notre Dame student-athletes and the New Jersey Alumni Clubs went into Sayreville, N.J. to accomplish one small task: to help a neighborhood return to its way of life before Sandy hit. This being the case, volunteers helped with tasks such as cleaning up debris, sorting through the belongings of elderly residents whose houses were flooded by the rains, and helping relocate those members of the community whose houses had become unlivable. From lugging refrigerators into moving trucks to shoveling piles of dirt and debris, Notre Dame volunteers were there to make the transition and restoration process as easy as possible for the people of Sayreville who have struggled so much in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Of particular importance to the trip’s success was project manager and local resident, Richard Bednarz. His home was one of the many which was lost in the storm. “The adjustment will go on for the rest of our lives. This is the new normal. We'd love to take our community and move somewhere to keep everyone together, but that's not realistic,” he said.
The reality of the situation is that many homes will not be able to be salvaged, but that does not mean that all members of the Sayreville community will give up the cause. Although outside help may come short and seldom, the fact that it comes at all is what really matters.
Bednarz added, “We're a blue-collar town. These are people who don't ask for help. In my misfortune though, I've got to do a lot of good. It's reinforced my belief that no matter how bad I have it, someone else has it worse.”
It is not always just the physical work done that makes the difference. As Fr. Tom Ryan of Our Lady of Victories summarized, “There is a sense of community here and this weekend it's not just our physical help, but there is an emotional aspect. Our presence might be more important than our physical help.” In a small, close-knit town, that’s exactly what people need sometimes.
Although Sandy and the damage she inflicted may have left the spotlight, the scar it will leave on the residents of Sayreville will last forever. The Notre Dame community did what it could to facilitate the healing of those wounds which may never, and can never fully heal. But it is in these small acts of kindness and charity—the selfless giving of time and energy to others—which will help the people of Sayreville move on to a brighter and promising future.