Chapters of The Arc coming together in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Claiming more than 100 lives, leaving millions without power, and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, Hurricane Sandy will not soon be forgotten. The total cost of damages in New York and New Jersey alone will likely total more than $50 billion. Many chapters of The Arc are still coping with the aftermath of this treacherous storm.

While tragic stories filled media reports, inspiring tales of communities coming together seemed to be overlooked. The Arc’s network includes more than 700 chapters in 49 states across the country, with more than 70 in the hard-hit states of New York and New Jersey. But chapters in affected states were not alone as the storm approached.

Inspiration in New Jersey

In New Jersey, chapter staff was rushing home from The Arc’s National Convention in Washington, DC to prep for the storm. After previous storms, chapters had plans for disaster situations and specialized training programs on emergency preparedness had taken place. While chapters were concerned about all the individuals and families they support, a priority for many was to educate individuals with I/DD living in the community about what to do and who to contact in an emergency.

The selflessness and dedication of the direct care support professionals throughout the state was truly inspiring. They went above and beyond what was expected. One employment support worker lost her home during the hurricane. Despite her loss, her priority remained locating the young man with I/DD she worked with in an evacuation shelter, and making sure he would be able to go back to work once the business he worked in was reopened. Not once did she mention her own loss; her main concern was making sure that one young man didn’t get lost in the system. Her work paid off and she was able to move him into temporary housing with friends and even contacted his employer to make sure his job was secure. These stories of compassion and generosity are plentiful in The Arc’s community.

Many chapters suffered power outages and flooding, but The Arc of Monmouth in New Jersey was one the hardest hit. One building, where day programs were held, was destroyed. These programs not only allowed individuals with I/DD an opportunity to work and participate in the community, but gave parents the ability to work while knowing their loved one was safe. The Arc of Monmouth was not willing to give up on their community and the hundreds of families they serve, so they set up a make-shift center in their main office. Pulling together staff and volunteers they have been able to host a variety of mini-seminars and workshops – no small feat in an area severely affected by the storm.

Resilience in New York

In New York, similar stories of inspiration can be found. Some of the most compelling stories come from NYSARC, Inc., the New York State Chapter of The Arc. Their New York City chapter, AHRC NYC, knew the key to survival was preparation. Learning from previous experiences and storms, they knew what had to be done to ensure that they could continue serving their communities even if they ended up bearing the brunt of the storm.

Despite the amazing preparation throughout New York, the aftermath of the storm did pose problems. Accounting for all individuals they supported in many urban areas proved difficult, but chapter staff used all available resources to account for everyone. In spite of severe flooding and power outages in the Wall Street area (where AHRC NYC’s main office is located), staff was in the office immediately after the storm sweeping water out so that they could get back to work. Through teamwork they overcame the barriers to getting their office functioning again.

After dealing with the immediate crisis, the staff at AHRC NYC knew they had to ensure that everyone was paid on time so that they could cover personal expenses they incurred from storm damage.  With no power in their main office, staffers carried a 300-pound piece of equipment down 13 flights of stairs, and transported it to an area where there was power to get paychecks out on time. AHRC NYC employs 3,000 staff who fan out across the city providing services and supports to more than 15,000 people with I/DD.

The sense of community was powerful, and AHRC NYC truly exemplified it in the aftermath of the storm. They shared their limited resources, including gas, with other chapters to make sure the work of The Arc could continue.

We at the national office commend The Arc of New Jersey, NYSARC, Inc., and all chapters that were affected by this storm for their amazing work and dedication. We ask any chapter affected by the storm to contact the national office if they are in need of assistance, or wish to share their story with us.