A New Nurse Aids Some of Those Who Lost So Much During Hurricane Sandy

Jul 3, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Olivia Jackson is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) program. She graduated summa cum laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University's Accelerated Bachelor's Degree in Nursing program this past May. She has a BA in Biological Sciences from Rutgers University. She is currently pursuing a career in medical surgical nursing.


The Jersey Shore is open for business this summer, and I am proud to say that I played a small part if making that happen, and helping the community that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy last year.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, especially in New Jersey and New York. For our November volunteer project, I and several other NCIN scholars at Fairleigh Dickinson University devoted a Saturday to helping the citizens of Rockaway Beach, New York, where the storm was particularly strong.

Through online research on Newyorkcares.org, I located a bus going to the Rockaways that needed more volunteers to help assemble and distribute care packages to the people affected by Hurricane Sandy. As our bus pulled into the Rockaways, the first thing we saw is what used to be a parking lot for beachgoers. It looked like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. Mounds of debris, most of which used to be the homes of Rockaway residents, extended across the horizon. I felt a deep sense of sadness and could not even imagine how devastated these people must feel having lost everything.

As we drove through town to the recovery center, I noticed that the streets were coated with sand. The boardwalk was no longer there, just the pilings that used to hold it up. Mansions on Ocean Avenue were reduced to rubble, knocked away by the catastrophic wind force and storm surge. When our bus pulled into the recovery center, we collected our supplies. Our assignment was to go door-to-door and distribute thermals and hand warmers because power had not yet been restored and it was getting cold. Along with distributing supplies, it was our job as a pilot group to use smartphones to survey the residents to assess their needs. Questions included whether or not they needed food, water, a generator, or clothing. Also, we asked if they were interested in being contacted by a volunteer service group for help with the cleanup of their homes.

I met a lot of very interesting and concerned people that day. I was overwhelmed by the sense that they were thankful for everything that they still had, despite losing almost everything. Many people that I talked with found solace in their faith and were extremely thankful for the support of volunteers who had come to the community. Despite being told to evacuate, many residents decided to stay put and weather the storm either to protect their belongings or because they had no place else to go.

One man I met, whose basement apartment had been flooded, received a letter from FEMA while we were at his door that informed him that they would give him no financial assistance. I watched him hold his toddler son and cry in disappointment. It was a heartbreaking moment for all of us as his reality set in. Even with all of the volunteer support, the people of the Rockaways needed much more help in their recovery.

So, this year, we decided to do more to help with Sandy relief efforts. This time, I contacted Habitat for Humanity, and we decided to spend a Saturday afternoon helping to rebuild a house that had been flooded during the storm.

We traveled to Union Beach, a town that was infamously ravaged by Superstorm Sandy. There, we met up with a crew of construction workers, and though we had no experience, we were put right to work. Our first job was to clean up the debris of the building that been gutted a few days prior to our arrival. We braced ourselves as we sorted through a mountain of wood with rusty nails, being careful not to get injured in the process. Our group worked fast because even though we had not entered the house yet, we could tell from the outside there was still much to do.

Once we finished, we headed inside. It was our job to pull up the kitchen floor. Little did we know that the floor would reveal the history of the home. There were five layers of kitchen floor! As we pulled them up layer by layer, the floor reflected American style through the decades. We felt a real sense of accomplishment when we finally busted through the final layer, preparing it for rejuvenation. The homeowner stopped by after work to thank us for all of our help. Our team was proud to be a part of the recovery of the Jersey Shore, helping to show that New Jersey is truly stronger than the storm!

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.