I’ve always been an enthusiastic volunteer. In college I volunteered for the Red Cross and also assisted their efforts after 9/11, answering phones and serving meals. It was a great feeling to support my city after such a devastating attack. I’ll never forget the smell of the still smoldering “pile” and the exhausted first responders who were so grateful for a hot meal and a place to sit down.
Once I became a stay at home mom and moved to New Jersey, my love of volunteering really kicked in, plus I had more time to dedicate to the causes that really mattered to me. I’m usually the first one to raise my hand and say “I’ll do it!” at my children’s school. I’ve run the book fair, the school spring clean-up efforts, kindergarten orientations and yes, I’m usually the class parent. I’m also an active volunteer at Saint Barnabas Medical Center’s NICU, where my youngest son spent six weeks after being born nine weeks premature.
However, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, I knew I needed to step up my volunteer game and branch out beyond my comfort zone. After getting my own family back up and running (we were without power for ten days and stayed in hotels and friends’ homes), one night I sat down at the computer and researched volunteer opportunities. One of the first websites to pop up and definitely the most user-friendly was Jersey Cares. I liked how simple it was to search for a project and that there were so many options, whether it was hands-on work or clerical assistance.
I immediately signed up to work in the Jersey Cares offices one day and to help out at a distribution center in Newark the next day. It was that easy. The morning I spent working in the office was great. Although I just answered the phones, I enjoyed learning about the many projects the team was already putting into place just a few days after Sandy and all the fantastic work that was being done. I was amazed at how many calls I answered from people all over the country asking how they could help. Everyone had blankets they wanted to deliver, food they wanted to offer and even manual labor. One man said he was calling from Michigan and was unemployed, so he was willing to jump in his car and head to the Jersey Shore if we needed him, as long as he had a place to stay. The outpouring of support was heartwarming.
My time at the distribution center in Newark was also very rewarding. I helped unload a truck (really out of my comfort zone!) and then distributed snacks to the many people waiting for hours in line in the freezing cold. Those people, who were without power and had been waiting for many days to receive supplies, were so incredibly grateful. It was such a wonderful feeling to hand them something that brightened their day and gave them hope.
Not long after, I saw a Facebook post on the Jersey Cares page that the organization was hiring, looking for a part-time seasonal employee for Sandy relief. On a whim, I sent in my resume. I had been thinking about going back to work in public relations and events (my previous career) and this seemed to be a good place to start. It was. Jersey Cares has been a wonderful opportunity for me and a true learning experience. I’ve become educated on the devastation New Jersey suffered after the hurricane and have assisted in making things better for my home state. Whether it is calling around to locations down the shore to see what their needs are or recruiting volunteers to assist in rebui
lding efforts, the work has been so rewarding. I’ve also enjoyed learning ho
w a non-profit works and all about social media, something that
around when I worked in PR nine years ago. I’m looking forward to continuing to assist with the amazing efforts of Jersey Cares and having a hand in helping rebuild the Jersey Shore.