When Hurricane Sandy swept across the metro region in late October, every member of The New School community was affected. With power out downtown for days and transportation disrupted for months, students, faculty, and staff pulled together to care for our immediate community. Once the university was fully recovered, New Schoolers turned their attention to less fortunate communities that continued to struggle with the aftermath of the hurricane.
In November and December, the annual Winter Wishes Toy and Coat Drives, led by the Office of Student Development and Activities (OSDA) focused specifically on those who lost belongings during the hurricane. “It was a testament to the spirit of the university that we were able to maintain donations in a time of hardship,” says Nicholas Krebs, assistant director of OSDA.
Recovery work continued through the winter, with students traveling out to the Rockaways to participate in New York Cares muck-out operations in the hard-hit area: Stripping mold-riddled insulation and drywall and removing furniture from houses. The work was hard, cold, and wet and, according to Mira Weisenthal, a first-year organizational change management student at Milano, an opportunity to reflect on the nature of volunteer work. “Volunteerism is an active expression of community,” said Weisenthal. “And it’s usually pretty fun.”
Weisenthal wasn’t the only New School volunteer who learned from the recovery. Parsons assistant professor Mathan Ratinam directs the Humanitarian Design Lab at Parsons, which partners with NGOs and international development organizations like the Red Cross, the World Bank and the United Nations. When Sandy hit, Ratinam’s students had been focusing on disaster preparedness—but the storm “provided a rare opportunity to see all the other phases of [an] event: the appeal and the relief,” said Ratinam.
Students in Ratinam’s class volunteered at Sunset Park, Brooklyn’s St. Jacobi Lutheran Church, which served as a de facto headquarters for Occupy Sandy, a grassroots relief organization. The class spent a full day working on inventory management, meal preparation, and community and media relations. Ratinam himself continued to volunteer at St. Jacobi in the following months. “It was wonderful to see the operation evolve in a highly agile manner from day to day—not just fine tuning internal operations but also adapting to the changing situation in the effected areas,” he said.
Volunteer efforts continue this semester, with opportunities to match every level of skill or available time commitment. For more information about how you can help, email OSDA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212.229.5687.