It may not have been their first visit to New York, but members of the Kernersville Moravian Church Youth Fellowship said the seven days they spent on Staten Island may have been some of the most rewarding days in their young lives.
“It was very humbling to work alongside some of these families and to hear their incredible stories,” said Alex Ford, as she recalled her memories of Hurricane Sandy. “I remember reading headlines about the number of people who lost their homes in the floods, but it wasn’t until this trip that I realized those numbers had faces. It completely changed my perspective.”
Ford said she won’t forget what it was like to stand among the rubble and pick through the debris that had been buried by overgrown weeds in so many yards. She said there was one street in particular that many of the neighbors talked about. They said the street, located approximately one mile from the water, originally had 1,700 or so homes on it. After the storm, there were only three.
“One house had been owned by a 72-year-old woman,” said Kernersville Moravian Church member Tony Smith. “The only thing left in the home was a few wooden chairs and three Korean bibles. I am not sure if she left them behind as a way to bless the home, or to bless those who came inside, but it was an image that will last a lifetime.”
Smith also won’t forget the glimmers of hope he saw among the devastation. He met a husband who ran back to his home during the storm to try to save his cats, while his wife stayed at a nearby shelter. The man said he tried to walk through the flooded streets, carrying both crates above his head, but it was too much, so he went back to the attic of his home until someone could come rescue him. He eventually was led to safety.
Kernersville Moravian Church member Doreen Daniels will never forget the story of Vincent, an older gentleman who rescued a puppy. Vincent told her all about how the dog helped him through his depression, the shock of finding his home damaged after the storm and caring for his sick wife.
Daniels said it is people like Vincent who remind her just how blessed she is and why it is important to help others.
“These families have faced a lot of struggle this year, but they are working together to rebuild their community, and that is a special sight to see,” she said.
All together, 15 students and adult leaders from the church attended the week-long trip from July 21-27. They spent their time working with Guyon Rescue to clean storm-wrecked homes from the inside out. They hung sheetrock and insulation, weed-eated, removed trash and provided other assistance as needed.
Kernersville Moravian Church member Cletra Wormley was proud of everyone in the group for their teamwork and flexibility. She said they were willing to tackle whatever project came their way and were excited to be there. They even slept on the floor at Great Kills Moravian Church and showered at the neighboring YMCA for the entire week.
“When I walked inside these homes and saw just how little these families had, my attitude completely changed,” Kernersville Moravian Church youth member Meredith Wilson said. “I discovered how easy it is to lose everything in just a few hours and learned not to take anything for granted. These families are no different than any of us. I am glad I had the opportunity to help them.”
Although a majority of the week was spent working, the group also spent time sightseeing. They visited the Statue of Liberty, rode the Staten Island Ferry, stood among the crowd at Times Square and honored history with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial.
They didn’t get to visit the museum since it was closed, but they met several people throughout the week who remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like it was yesterday.
“Our youth were too young to remember the events of that day, but they are old enough to respect it,” Daniels said. “They listened as the families shared their memories of that day – including some who saw the second plane hit the towers. I think our students discovered that the horror of that day is still very real for these people, even 12 years later.”