Restoration and Resurrection

    • January 22, 2015
A flood victim surveys the damage to her home.

For many residents of New Jersey, the 2014 Super Bowl marked more than a Seattle championship win over Denver.

In the year after the big game was played in New Jersey for the first time, some of the communities hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 saw a big boost in spirits—thanks in part to the work of the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

While Seahawks fans celebrated a formidable win over the Broncos, Garden State youth-focused nonprofits had something else to cheer about.

Out of a $1.5 million dollar grant that RWJF provided to the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation—the charitable arm of the Super Bowl Host Committee—$100,000 went to Jersey Cares, a nonprofit that enlists volunteers to undertake high-impact community projects. True to its mission, Jersey Cares has made a visible impact with the grant. In the days just before Super Bowl XLVIII, volunteers helped to install brand new playgrounds at three hard-hit elementary schools down the shore: Manasquan Elementary School, St. Rose of Lima (grammar school) in Belmar, and Hugh J. Boyd, Jr. Elementary School in Seaside Heights.

Brian Dean, executive director of Jersey Cares, pointed out just how important those projects were for the three shore towns. “Communities recognized the amazing gift and the amazing transformation. It had a huge impact on the playgrounds, on the kids, and on the psyche of the communities.”

In Belmar, Sandy poured nine feet of water into St. Rose of Lima, a Catholic grammar school, and 800 pounds of fish! A third of the school was completely destroyed. And St. Rose’s already-worn playground equipment was left rusted and unsafe.

Jersey Cares volunteers installed a slide, toy bongo drums made of durable plastic, and a seesaw. In the blacktop area, they painted lines for hopscotch and foursquare to encourage structured activity and discourage opportunities for playground bullying. Thanks to the grant, Jersey Cares didn’t just repair the playground—they left it in better shape than it was before the storm.

When Hurricane Sandy touched down in Manasquan, it displaced 100 families with children in the elementary school. Jersey Cares deployed the RWJF grant to install new equipment in the school playground that has brought a much-needed morale boost to the town while delighting the students who use it. The equipment includes toy xylophones and bongos, a tic-tac-toe rotating block board, and a ball game.

Further down the shore in Seaside Heights, Sandy forced the town to use Hugh J. Boyd, Jr. Elementary’s venerable baseball field as a trash heap; fences that used to rattle with the impact of foul balls wound up acting as barriers to contain a growing mound of debris. Eventually, the hurricane-damaged school was brought back to a habitable condition and the trash was removed, but the field remained a mess. Volunteers from Jersey Cares turned that unusable field into a community park, complete with a stage that Seaside’s 2,900 residents are already using. There’s even talk of adding a dog park in the future.

Jersey Cares remains proud of the difference it made in the 12 months since the New Jersey Super Bowl—proud of the way it both restored school playgrounds and lifted spirits in the communities.

“These residents were in desperate need of hope,” added Dean. “The transformations funded by the foundations brought the communities back to life. They also made the towns better off than before, and inspired the residents with the belief that they and their communities would regain their former lives.”

The new and improved playgrounds at Manasquan Elementary School, St. Rose of Lima grammar school, and Hugh J. Boyd, Jr. Elementary School have helped residents to reclaim their pre-storm lives—and left them looking toward an even better future.

To see the full impact of RWJF’s $1.5 million dollar grant to the Snowflake Youth Foundation, click here.