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Juvenile Justice Corps members give tribute to volunteerism in the wake of Hurricane Sandy at AmeriCorps Kick-Off in Albany

New York Juvenile Justice Corps members awoke bright and early this morning to make a 6:00 AM bus to Albany for the annual AmeriCorps kick-off event hosted by the New York State Commission on National and Community Service. More than 1,000 AmeriCorps members from across New York State gathered at the Empire State Plaza for a jam-packed agenda, filled with fun, reflection, and of course, service. 

Among the highlights of the day were Juvenile Justice Corps members being selected to deliver a tribute to AmeriCorps service in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and share some personal testimony from their relief efforts in Red Hook. The full text of the speech delivered by Corps members Salam Mustafa, Pete Martin and Claudia Choi is below.

Additionally, Corps members took the AmeriCorps oath of service, pledging to "get things done for America!" A video of Corps members reciting the pledge is below.

Finally, Corps members had the opportunity to mingle with AmeriCorps programs from other parts of the state such as Buffalo, Rochester and Long Island during the service fair. Corps members also participated in numerous service projects with other AmeriCorps programs, including gift-wrapping holiday presents for children of military families and writing letters to service men and women abroad. Photos from these projects are displayed in the slideshow below.

Congratulations, New York Juvenile Justice Corps members on a fantastic start to your service year! We could not be more thrilled to have you aboard!   

“A Tribute to AmeriCorps Service in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy”

Three weeks ago today, millions of New Yorkers woke to find their community forever changed. Many lost loved ones to the storm. Flooded neighborhoods were barely recognizable. And lifetimes’ worth of worldly possessions were lost in corrosive seawater. In addition, millions of people were left for weeks without power, heat, or running water. In the face of heartbreak and devastation, we witnessed something powerful: volunteers mobilized, donations poured in, and communities learned what they were really made of, as they pulled together to rebuild.

Good morning everyone. My name is Salam Mustafa and I am here with Claudia Choi and Pete Martin. We are members of the New York Juvenile Justice Corps, which is based in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is a small waterfront community that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Our offices were flooded with 5 feet of water and remained without power until last week.

Although most of us hadn’t set foot in Red Hook before last month, because Red Hook has had an AmeriCorps program for the past 18 years, our bright shirts immediately made us a welcome and familiar sight in the neighborhood. I want to share one story to illustrate that:  

Two days after the storm when it was first reported the National Guard would be coming with food and water, Red Hook residents lined up for hours in near freezing temperatures, hoping the goods would arrive before dark. As frustrations mounted, we walked up and down the line trying to reassure everyone that help was on its way. Toward the back of the line, a woman caught sight of us and called out “AmeriCorps is here! Now you know it’s gonna be okay!” That made us feel very proud, but also humbled, realizing the powerful legacy we’ve inherited by joining AmeriCorps.

We are here today to recognize the many AmeriCorps members who rose in service after Sandy. The subway shutdown in New York City could not stop us from being at the frontlines of relief efforts from day 1. We rode bikes, took multiple busses, and drove across town on that last quarter tank of gas – whatever it took to get there!

Seeing that we were in need, AmeriCorps members from across the country also organized and deployed to New York. They came from Missouri, Vermont, Montana, Washington State, Minnesota, Iowa, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico  – not to mention hundreds of FEMA Corps members who came up from Washington DC just a few weeks into their service year!

Can we see a show of hands, how many in this room have been a part of Sandy relief efforts in the past 3 weeks? Look around… That’s amazing! Give yourselves a round of applause!
In this room alone are AmeriCorps members who have supported countless relief efforts across the state. We wish we could share all of your stories but only have time to give few brief snapshots here today.

In the hardest hit sections of New York City, Civic Corps and Juvenile Justice Corps members worked side by side with the National Guard to distribute essential items- including water, ready-made meals, and wool blankets. Corps members of City Year led craft-making, and fun activities for children while they waited with their parents in long distribution lines.

Corps members went door to door in New York City Housing Authority developments, checking on seniors and homebound individuals. These deliveries involved climbing as many as 14 flights of stairs in a pitch black, narrow stairwell, balancing cases of water, boxes of food, and a flashlight. Everyone who was home opened their door with bright eyes and great appreciation.

Civic Corps members made city evacuation centers comfortable for families by giving out warm clothes and personal items. On Long Island, AmeriCorps members with the Red Cross dispatched to a high school being used as a shelter for one of the hardest hit beachfront communities. 

Civic Corps members also led massive beach cleanups in the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach. AmeriCorps members from Green City Force and the New York Restoration Project picked up chainsaws, rakes and shovels and removed literally tons of downed trees and debris from city parks and green spaces. New York Restoration Project Corps members actually couldn’t make it to Albany today because their service is still so critically needed on the ground.

Our volunteer service does not only have an impact on communities, it impacts us as well. We are going to share a few reflections on the meaning of service in the aftermath of Sandy. 

As the storm hit, I watched my city shut down, and then become overwhelmed. The destruction was painful to watch, and I didn't want to sit by, doing nothing in response to such tragedy so close to home, so I jumped at the opportunity to help.In Red Hook, the differences between the National Guard and groups of volunteers diminished and we were just people working together to be stronger than we each could be individually. It was amazing to be surrounded by other individuals who wanted to help as much as I did. I think we were all inspired by one another to get as much as we could done.

I found it very gratifying to see the warm response from the community and to be greeted by huge smiles and sometimes even hugs. Though many were without water or electricity, our outreach comforted them in the sense that they were not going to be ignored. For me personally, I was humbled by the experience and proud that I was able to be part of history and contribute my efforts to help New Yorkers get back on their feet.

I was really excited about being able to give of my time and not looking for anything in return, I mean it just touches my heart to see the relief on peoples' faces when I delivered the packages to them. I never in my life would had thought that it would be so fulfilling doing volunteer work and see how many people came out to help. I always had love for people no matter who they are and to be apart of something so wonderful is a blessing, and I'm proud to be a AmeriCorps member. Thank you, AmeriCorps, for showing me what it truly means to give of yourself selflessly! 

As we speak, many New Yorkers are still without power, heat and water. Even when those services are restored, rebuilding will take years. At a community meeting in Red Hook last week, one resident stood up and said “Sandy brought us together, but let’s stay together!”

We say the same. If we continue work together like we have the past 3 weeks, there is no limit to what we can do. Thank you everyone for all you have done. And thank you for making us so proud to be a part of this program that lets us be of service where our communities need us most. 


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