When Hurricane Sandy struck, the effect could be felt up and down the East Coast. Homes were ruined, businesses destroyed, loved ones lost. Life was essentially put on hold.
Throughout the pain and despair though, several members of the College community shared a collective thought: How can I help?
That thought was the beginning of an initiative at the College that has come to be known as Here for Home. Through the combined efforts of students, faculty, and staff, The College of New Jersey has begun to take the first steps forward in helping restore the state that it calls home.
The efforts began just days after the storm hit, as members of the campus called from all over, asking the administration what they could do to help their fellow New Jerseyans.
“It was spontaneous and organic, from a number of different places: students, faculty, and staff,” said Pat Donohue, assistant provost for community engaged learning programs and partnerships. “They started calling a number of different offices.”
With a desire to help get the state back on its feet, the College sent out a communication to campus in search of anyone who was interested in supporting the rebuilding effort. That initial email attracted more than 50 volunteers and, “right off the bat, the group developed eight or nine working groups” with specific objectives, according to Donohue.
“Unfortunately, you get better at this with each disaster,” Donohue said. “I think we learned a lot of valuable lessons from the Here for Haiti initiative, which went well.” That initiative was launched to organize the campus’ relief efforts following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.
With Here for Home, students, faculty, and staff began working on several operations around campus, including on-campus food and clothing drives as well as the Point Donation Drive, which was supported by Student Government and Dining Services.
“It’s a good example of students, faculty, and staff working together and kind of blurring the lines that separate us,” Donohue said of the effort.
Other projects included an “unconventional” collaboration with the bookstore to sell Here for Home T-shirts, in addition to getting members of the College out to the towns affected by the storms. Donohue says the College has sent students to Belmar, Hazlet, Manasquan, Point Pleasant Beach, Union Beach, and Ortley Beach. Future efforts will be centered on Union Beach and, most likely, Ortley Beach, he said.
Here for Home plans to continue to send busloads of volunteers to shore towns that were affected by Sandy to provide assistance throughout the spring, after receiving nearly $15,000 to support the effort from the Student Finance Board and the College. There are also plans to use college facilities during the summer to host relief volunteers from other institutions, such as Washburn University and Tulane University.
“It’s a collective effort,” Donohue said. “No one office owns [Here for Home]. We’re very fortunate to be working in higher education and see students help initiate a project, and also have faculty and staff add their voice, experience, and energy. It’s been inspiring.”
As of press time, Here for Home has raised more than $6,500 to support hurricane relief projects as well as organizations such as the Red Cross, and has collected more than 4,500 pounds of supplies to help those affected by the storm. Additionally, more than 200 TCNJ volunteers have performed more than 1,200 hours of service in the areas hardest hit by the storm.