My name is Margaret Tereschuk and I am a senior, criminal justice major. Two weeks ago, I volunteered to be a part of a Hurricane Sandy relief group of 17 students. I am embarrassed to admit this, but it is the first time I have taken advantage of one of the amazing service programs that Saint Anselm provides. I was looking through my emails one day, and happened to see that Campus Ministry was assembling groups of students to lend a hand. I saw on the news the damage done by the hurricane and felt compelled to help. Also, I figured it would most likely be my last chance to take advantage of an opportunity like this.
I was a member of a group that took the 5 ½ hour journey to Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday, and Staten Island on Sunday. I was instantly shocked when I saw how bad the conditions really were, and I was angered that the attention being paid to this disaster paled so greatly in comparison to how grave the conditions actually were. They had been cleaning up for at least a month by the time we arrived, and it still looked like a scene from a movie about the apocalypse. People’s homes were torn apart, the foundations were destroyed, and all of their belongings were in soggy, moldy heaps on their driveways and in the street. Houses were missing their sides, and some looked as though they were ripped from their foundations and haphazardly thrown to another location. It took me a while to come to terms with the situation, and it was difficult to keep my emotions in check.
At both locations, we arrived at our sites and joined up with other volunteers from different organizations, and civilians who wanted to do their part. I was moved by how many people joined together to help. People were donating various supplies, others were cooking for the volunteers and victims, massages were provided for those who were suffering from stress, trauma counseling was made available, garbage men were removing massive piles of garbage free of charge, and, like us, several people were working on the houses.
The volunteers were split up into groups and dispatched to different addresses. When we arrived, the homeowners told us what they needed done, and our job was to do anything that would make their lives easier and lighten their load, both emotionally and physically. We tore down drywall and ceilings, removed insulation from the walls, sifted through the remains of people’s belongings to see if anything was salvageable, cleared out trashed and flooded basements, removed carpet, moved furniture out, and helped load moving trucks. In my opinion, the most valuable thing we did was listen to the stories of the victims, let them vent to us, and help them to realize that they were not alone.
There were countless memorable moments during my two-day trip, but one especially made an impression on me. We went to an older woman's home where we helped her, her brother, and her son tear down drywall and insulation. After we completed the job, the younger man, who was a homicide detective in the NYPD, thanked us repeatedly for helping him with the work on his mother’s home. All of the sudden, he began to talk. We stood there in silence and listened for about an hour. He shared his story of how he was in his car during the storm, and the tide lifted it and swept it away. Before he rolled his windows down to brave the rapids, he called all of his loved ones and said his goodbyes. He swam for 40 minutes, not knowing if he would be saved, if he would drown, or if a power line would snap and fall into the water. Luckily, he survived.
He also shared with us that he lost his mother’s sister in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was there when the south tower collapsed, and that he lost several of his best friends who were firefighters and police officers. This man had been through two different horrible experiences in his life that no one should ever have to endure. The amazing part was his attitude. He told us how grateful he is for his life, how he used these hardships as wake-up calls to remind him of how blessed he is, and that he is positive that God is watching over him and protecting him at all times. These experiences have not ruined him or made him a pessimist, although this would have been quite understandable; they have strengthened him, and this man was an inspiration. Throughout his story I held back tears. We were all stunned, and we were immediately grateful for our lives. We were made aware that things like finals, homework, and college drama really weren’t so hard. This man, whom we met by chance, had changed our lives in a matter of 60 minutes.
The trip greatly exceeded every expectation I had, and it completely changed my perspective on life. One thing I learned is that no matter how bad things seem, there will always be someone else who has it much worse. Surprisingly enough, the people who do have it worse usually have an amazingly optimistic attitude and a rock-solid belief in their faith.
The second thing I learned was that there is no greater feeling than helping others and getting nothing in return. It is a feeling that I hope to get much more frequently by volunteering and helping out as many people as I can.
Finally, the third thing that I learned was that everyone who ever told me that I should take advantage of everything Saint Anselm College has to offer was right. If I could do one thing, it would be to share this story with everyone so that people do not pass up service and volunteer opportunities such as Spring and Winter Break Alternative, Road for Hope, Relay for Life, and Hurricane Relief Groups. There will always be someone who is in need of a helping hand, and one never knows when he/she might also be in need of one.
Editor's Note: This story was submitted by Margaret Tereschuk '13.