John Adams Shelter
When Mother Nature asked for land back along the sea, the people of the Rockaways were asked to leave. As the storm approached Thursday afternoon, phone calls went out to city workers with one thought in mind; the shelters will need people. “This is not a test” the prerecorded voice said over the phone. This would be the first in a series of three calls to be made that night to get city workers mobilized. I pressed 1 to volunteer and 6 hours later my assignment was Staten Island, “Really Bloomy? I’m from Far Rockaway,” I said to myself.
I would be leaving the next morning, on my way from my only home, the Rockaway peninsula, to an Island off in the distance. It is hard to believe just two weeks ago I was arguing with Wavecrest Gardens about my floodedout car. However, I knew that my apartment would be safe and that the complex would take care of its tenants. Wavecrest Management had stepped up to the plate; they had distributed letters to everyone’s door. Trevor, the General Manager, wanted to make sure that if this storm was coming as bad as they said, damage to tenants’ property would be minimal. The management team was really concerned about tenants and worked hard to make sure that we stayed informed. However, I wasn’t going to be around for the storm, I was off to help in Staten Island.
I had a plan. I was going to get as much training there as I could and then see if I could be transferred to a site where my People, My Fellow Rockaway evacuees would be. I wanted to help the Rockaways. I reported to Susan E. Wagner High School in Staten Island and learned what I could. The best part about being there was unpacking Bloomberg’s 2006 plans. There were no OEM employees or anyone from the Mayor’s office, just city workers, janitors and papers telling us what to do. When a new volunteer/ worker walked through the door, everyone looked to her or him as if she/he was to be our fearless leader, but we soon found that we were charged with starting the process. There was only a handful of us; a DOE principal and teacher, DOT and DEP employees and other agencies, to name a few.
Saturday I reported to John Adams High School on Rockaway Boulevard. I was so glad that I had gone to Staten Island first, everything I learned from there easily transferred. Arguments broke here and there between worker and evacuee at John Adams, but they were too few to speak of. If people came in with yelling and screaming, they left after the storm feeling heard and welcomed. After all, the people coming to John Adams High school weren’t only New Yorkers, but they were from the Rockaways. If you think it is hard to convince a New Yorker something is in his or her best interest, try convincing a person who takes a really long ride on the A-train. Young and Old, Black, White and every color in between, they wandered through the doors. For moments throughout the day and night, John Adams High School become less like a learning institution and more like the Statue of Liberty; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
Bloomberg thought of everything, well at least he had things prepared as if he did. Three gyms, dozens of classrooms, half a cafeteria, all filled with cots. There were supplies for a makeshift nurse’s room and even an animal shelter. This most of all was surprising to me. I always felt that people were more important than their pets. However, someone there said to me, “For some people, their animals are people, too.” The supplies given allowed the staff to take care of hundreds of families. Some I went to school with, some I worked with and some I was just glad to meet. These supplies helped the staff bring smiles to many people who were disheartened with the reality that they might not have a home to go back to. I was happy to help serve my people of the Rockaways.
When Mother Nature asked for land back along the sea, the people of Rockaway were asked to leave. Like the No Name Storm of 1893 which knocked out Hog Island, and released Far Rockaway Bay, some didn’t know what to expect from this hurricane or what they would return to after. It was in a time of despair that we placed all of our differences aside and we saw the best of what human nature had to offer. There was no separation of age, sex, religion, race, color or creed; this storm put us all to a test. Irene helped us see the best that we can be. I only hope that now that the storm has passed and we start to return to our normal lives, we allow the storm to keep away our petty differences and move forward with our ability to succeed at a moment’s notice.
Thank you staff that helped me learn at Susan E. Wagner High School. Thank you to all the staff that came together at John Adams High School and to the Leaders that Emerged. Thank you Wavecrest Gardens for allowing me to feel safe enough to leave my beachfront ocean view apartment, to help out Rockaway Evacuees. Thank you Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for erecting plans with the hope that we would never have to use them, but when we had to, they were there. To Dennis Walcott, thanks for stopping by and saying hello to many people at the shelter. Most importantly, thank you my Fellow Rockaway people; I love Far Rockaway and if I doubted that I did, I now have these memories to help me fall in love all over again.