Armed with a desire to give back, a group of students and staff members from Greenwich High School traveled to Queens, New York in the early morning hours on Saturday, January 12. The GHS Habitat for Humanity Club typically works on the weekends in Yonkers, but this trip took them to Breezy Point.
Real Life Lesson
Social Studies teacher Megan Roby and Lindsey Pontieri, a special education teacher at ARCH School, have been co-advisors of the club for the past four years. The two “felt it was important to give students the opportunity to better understand what other communities experienced beyond what they see on TV.”
Their contact, Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, has frequented Breezy Point since Hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October. “Through conversations with him about the conditions and the sheer enormity of what they were facing, the idea came about," to bring Greenwich to Queens explained Pontieri.
More Than Double
During the planning process for the trip with GHS Habitat for Humanity Co-Presidents Seniors Julia Hyland and Tyler O'Connell, the co-advisors said that “we were hopeful for 20 students. However, on Saturday, we ended up with 40 students and 15 staff members volunteering.”
Hyland said that providing "assistance to those who suffered damage" in Breezy Point, was an opportunity that they thought "many students would be interested in and a great way to truly help those in our surrounding community." And come Saturday, Hyland acknowledged "we were all certainly impressed and pleased with how many people were willing to participate."
Diane Chiapetta Fox, director of Student Activities, said that she wanted to do something to support their efforts. Student Activities provided red bandannas for each participant so that they could be identified and, in addition, sent them off with bagels, cream cheese and coffee.
Hyland, who has been involved with the club since the ninth grade and, therefore, no stranger to 'builds,' was "shocked by the amount of devastation and the work that still needs to be done."
Sandy's destruction drew the same reaction from the adults as well. “Greenwich and surrounding areas have families struggling with repairs, but, overall, we did not experience such widespread devastation. To have 55 students and staff willing to give up their whole Saturday—we left GHS at 7:30 am and got back at 6:30—to go work was pretty awesome,” proclaimed Pontieri.
Another Habitat member since freshman year, Senior Victoria Meskers, revealed that when they embarked on their journey "no one knew what kind of work we would be doing; for all we knew, we could be handing out water bottles and supplies to those who lost their homes."
Meskers described the entry into the affected area. "The houses leading up to Breezy Point all had notices on their doors, claiming that they were unsuitable to live in. We walked further down to where the fires occurred and found that it was a ghost town."
A shocked Meskers observed that "all that was left was the foundation of the houses and burnt appliances here and there."
Upon arrival, "the staff working for Habitat deployed us to different homes in the neighborhood,” said Pontieri. Because of the size of the Greenwich contingency, rather than work on one house they were "divided into smaller groups and worked on several houses tearing down sheet rock, insulation, etc." added Hyland. Meskers furthered, "the homes we worked in all had water damage and were falling apart."
Service To Others
"Day in and day out, our students and staff demonstrate the capacity to do good for others," said GHS Headmaster Chris Winters of the group's outreach. "The army of GHS students and teachers who ripped out soaked Sheetrock and hauled debris from houses in the Rockaways is yet another example. I'm very proud to be connected to a school that values service to others." Winters knows that the group's work epitomizes the school's Vision of the Graduate point of "contribute to the community through dialogue, service and/or leadership."
“The day was very moving..." declared Roby. Despite that nearly three months has passed since Hurricane Sandy ripped through the area, the damage is still very appararent. "As time passes, it is easy to forget that people are still suffering, but after just five minutes it is clear just how much work still needs to be done and we hope to be able to help our neighbors again in the near future,” she commented.
And help they did. "Before we left, the event coordinator informed us that the work we did in one day was the most work they had been able to accomplish in one month," Meskers said of their efforts.
"It was certainly an experience that I will never forget," Hyland said. "At the end of the day, it was a really great feeling to know that we were truly helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy."