Meet the People who Make the Magic Happen!

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It might be hard to believe, but there are people out there who think we’re a little bit crazy to be as obsessed with mold as we are. I’ll admit it might be a little weird to nickname the different types of mold you come across in different homes, or that certain members of our team who shall go unnamed (Hint: Mustache) are able to identify the homes of people we work with by looking at photos of spores. But hey, it’s all in a day’s work.

What’s even crazier is all the amazing people we meet who slave away all week long and STILL want to spend their days off in Tyvek suits with ghostbuster mold vacs, busting their butts to help people affected by Sandy get back to a sense of normalcy, and able to rebuild safely.

We love all the R&R volunteers so much we thought you might want to meet them, too. So with no further ado, welcome to our brand new “Meet the Volunteers” series!

Meet Tanuja

In kicking off these virtual introductions it makes sense to start with Tanuja, who’s not only been coming around for weeks now, but also brings along a van full of friends equally committed to helping out in the recovery process. They’ve nicknamed their 13 weeks (so far!) of coming down as weekend warriors the “Sandy Streetcar” project.

Tanuja has been living in NYC for more than 12 years, and like a lot of New Yorkers, has come to feel like she’s in a special sort of relationship with the city. When we interviewed her, she called the City her best friend. And in her blog, she referred to NYC as her husband. The jury is out on whether this constitutes cheating… but either way, every weekend for the last 13 weeks Tanuja and her friends have commandeered a vehicle, loaded it up with friends, and headed to areas affected by Sandy to help out residents trying to get back on their feet and back into their homes.

We asked Tanuja what inspired her to start the project and she said that when she volunteered at a church in Brooklyn the first weekend, “There was this long line of willing and able volunteers, but they lacked transport to get to the areas hardest hit. Some people were afraid to hitch rides out to these spots because there was no guarantee they’d get rides back! And I understood. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 12 years and never owned a car. When we knew that mobility was a key issue to tackle, we organized and raised funds to help us rent transport. Now that we get a van every weekend, people don’t have to worry about transportation logistics or where to keep our things during the day. And that’s how we’ve been able to do 13 trips and counting!”

Respond & Rebuild encourages all volunteers to come down and join us in doing what we do, but we also have a special place in our hearts for “repeat customers.” Mold remediation requires a very specific method, and quality control is crucial. When people like Tanuja and her friends come down week after week, not only do we spend less time training and more time working, but volunteers start training each other, playing a huge part in our promise to residents: that they are receiving an effective, professional service.

Since the Sandy Streetcar folks have been coming down for so long, they’ve worked in a lot of roles: distribution, mucking and gutting, remediation, and even rebuilding. We know why people keep coming back. It’s important work. And it feels great to know you’re helping prevent the displacement communities often see after disasters, when resources are scarce and rebuilding seems overwhelming. But we also wanted to know why Sandy Streetcar keeps coming back as a cohesive group rather than individually. Tanuja says, “Coming together and working as a group makes all the difference in a disaster recovery effort like this. We need to talk about what we see after spending a day of helping someone pick up the pieces of their home. And frankly, we can achieve so much more as a group than if we just came individually. Because of the camaraderie we build, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Having spent so much time reflecting on the work we do and the communities we work with ourselves, we understand how space for collective reflection makes for a more holistic response to disaster, and is crucial for moving beyond simply helping, to truly being in solidarity with the community.

To find out more about what it’s like to come out and work with us, and to see Sandy Streetcar’s take on the many issues faced by New York’s hardest hit communities, check out Tanuja’s blog here.

(Special thanks to Sandy Streetcar’s Gianluca and Cherished Team Leader Kevin LaVerdière for photos.)

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