In honor of National Volunteer Week and the six month Sandy-versary we wanted to interview one of our amazing volunteers to see what it is that inspires him to keep up the good work after all this time, and what others are thinking about the state of the recovery efforts.
When we started poking around for an interview, since our new friend Ravin Shah is around almost every weekend as a dedicated team leader, he was an easy target!
When Sandy hit, Ravin was in his hometown of Edison, NJ, where he volunteers with Edison’s First Aid Squad and the NJ EMS Task Force. He was on call for whatever might happen during the storm. As it turned out, he spent a busy 2 weeks working primarily in New Jersey, dealing with downed trees falling on people in their houses, evacuating Hoboken’s hospital, helping to support Jersey City’s EMS operations after a power loss, and helping to set up a mobile hospital in Brick, NJ, where Sandy first touched ground. His squad also set up a communication apparatus in case vital comms like 911 went down, among other things.
After spending so much time doing such intense work as a first responder after Sandy, we wanted to know more about his decision to be a long term Sandy volunteer here in NYC.
R&R: What was your reaction when you first returned to NYC?
RS: Once I got back to my apartment [in Manhattan] it was almost as if nothing had happened. Having had a front row seat to the devastation and hardship that people were facing I wanted to remain involved. I looked online and found Respond & Rebuild. They were one of the only groups mobilizing people immediately without previous orientations or training. Another volunteer group wanted me to take an orientation but the “classes” were booked for a solid 6 months.
R&R: When did you first come down to the Rockaways?
RS: I came to Rockaway the first time on November 10th. I kept coming down to the Rockaways because of my first day volunteering with Respond and Rebuild. That first day we worked from 9 to 5 with a crew of 10 people. We performed a muck out/clean out and demo of a basement and even after 8 hours we weren’t finished – there was so much more to do. Not to mention all of this family’s most treasured possessions were out on the street, destroyed. At the end of the day I looked up and down the street and realized this is what was needed for every house on the block and in a larger sense the whole area (Rockaways, NJ Coast, Staten Island, etc). It dawned on me that it was going to be a momentous task and a sustained effort of committed people was needed. Luckily there were others who shared my sentiments. That was good to know.
R&R: How would you describe the current state of the recovery process?
RS: Things are getting better day by day, and slowly working themselves out, albeit too slowly. Most (if not all) people have heat and power in their homes. People have started moving back into their homes, although the true numbers are hard to come by. But, as mentioned before, moving home doesn’t mean all is well.
On a macro scale, systems for aid and recovery work are largely in place in the form of organizations like Respond and Rebuild. But, with the solution of one problem, other problems are coming to the forefront. In the early days donations and volunteers were abundant, but now that things have largely “gone back to normal” donations of supplies and the flow of volunteers has plateaued. As a result, sustained funding seems to be the issue on every aid organization’s mind. So the process has already begun for requesting funding from government and non-governmental groups.
R&R: What keeps you coming down today?
RS: I don’t know that there is a simple answer to that question. First, the overriding reason I keep coming down is that there is still a lot of work to be done. I’m sure many people have not even cleaned out their home, let alone gutted it. What compounds this is that many people outside the affected area think the recovery process has been completed. When I tell people I still volunteer, their response is often, ‘Oh wow! That’s still going on? That’s still a problem?’ And of course the idea is to be helping people who cannot possibly afford to demo, remediate the mold, or rebuild with their savings or insurance/FEMA payouts. But as these things always go, the reality is much more complicated than that.
Second is that the people in the local community itself are so genuine and grateful for any help that we are able to provide. They understand the conditions surrounding their situation and are so happy that people care and can help give them a confidence booster and get them on the road to recovery.
Lastly, I keep coming back because the people that I volunteer with are some of the best people I have ever had the honor of knowing. These are people with jobs, families and so many other things going on that are giving up their preciously short weekends to help others. I can’t think of any other group that would have volunteers like that.