“If it weren’t for volunteer groups like yours, I wouldn’t be living in my house now.”

Published on September 16, 2014 by TELEM


That statement from Beth Henry - whose Hurricane Sandy-flooded  home was repaired by volunteers with the New York Says Thank You group - hit at the heart of why our group of 8 TELEM teens and 3 chaperones were once again donning hammers and crowbars in Queens, NY.  Beth and her family of two young daughters and her firefighter husband,  - like hundreds of other first responder families who suffered extensive home damage from Hurricane Sandy – did not have the resources to rebuild on their own. They sought out assistance from New York Says Thank You (NYSTY) and the Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC) – two organizations that focus their rebuilding efforts on helping first responders get back into their homes.

From August 17-20, our fabulous group spent three days working in partnership with NYSTY and the JDRC helping Mike Bresnahan, - a police officer, first responder and former resident of Westford, MA - repair his flooded-out home in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens. Our group had the amazing opportunity to work each day alongside Mike’s dad, Tom, who treated us all as if we were his own family. Though Hurricane Sandy struck nearly two years ago, Mike and Tom (a retired police detective) were only now able to make headway towards repairing the exterior of the house. We spent nearly all of our working time on the exterior, removing siding, insulation, old windows, and rotted sheathing so that the underlying damage could be removed and the rebuilding process could begin. Mike expressed  his appreciation for the group’s work in an interview with a crew from NY1 TV: "It's unbelievable that they're coming down from Massachusetts just driving down to help someone they've never seen, never heard of, never met.”

Our TELEM group included teens from 3 suburban Boston synagogues: Congregation Or Atid, Wayland; Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester; and Temple Sinai, Sharon. Our very diligent crew impressed everyone with their hard work and dedication to the tasks at hand.   We accomplished an enormous amount of work and gave Tom and Mike a much needed boost of energy and inspiration to move their house closer to move-in condition.  

And our ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos included cultural and educational experiences to go along with the rebuilding work. On the cultural end, we began our trip with a visit to the lower East Side of Manhattan. Our activities there included a tour of the iconic Tenement Museum’s Sweatshop Exhibit (of Jewish immigrant families) and dinner at Katz’ famous deli.

Other evening activities included a night of fun at Coney Island  including trips on the many amusements and a taste of the area’s famous ‘shaved ice’.  We also participated in the ‘Stars of Hope’ project where we painted messages of hope and inspiration on wooden stars that are given to communities recovering from natural disasters and other traumatic events. We could see stars along our route to the Bresnahan home on Breezy Point, and the stars we painted will carry their messages to communities affected by tornadoes in the Midwest.

We also cooked and ate dinners together, when we  reflected and talked about our experience. On the last evening of the trip, I took the opportunity to recognize the dedication and work of all the teens, and in particular, 4 teens who have participated on 3 service trips to New York within the last year. Aidan Arnold, Cameron Campbell, Joe Duggan and Noah Habbe have all taken the time out of their busy year to travel to NY to take on this task of helping strangers rebuild their flood-damaged homes. As Aidan said in an interview with NY1 cable TV of New York: “" [By our coming here] They know that people still care, people haven't forgotten about what happened in New York, what happened with the storm."

In the spirit of Pirkei Avot that says “You are not required to finish the work, but neither can you ignore it”, this crew and the others that preceded it, have certainly not ignored the ongoing work of helping Hurricane Sandy victims get back into their homes. And we hope, pray and work for the day that the work will be finished.

A heartfelt shout out of thanks goes to others who helped make the trip possible: Adina Remz, Executive Director of JDRC; Tim Callahan, the site supervisor from NYSTY; Alexis Jaffe of JDRC for her planning and educational work with us; Samantha Kanofsky of JDRC who was with us in all stages of the trip from planning the service work to our evening activities and final clean-up; and a special thanks to Ron Goldberg, our tireless chaperone of 3 trips, who freely and joyously gives of his time and takes care of us so in many ways.

This was a truly wonderful, productive, spirited service trip and I am honored by this group and the work that we achieved together.

Barry Glass,
TELEM Director

Check out the trip on the TELEM facebook page as well as through these video clips and pictures.