Last weekend, volunteers from all over the country came to Long Beach, the Rockaways and Staten Island, to rebuild the Sandy-damaged homes of New York’s finest and bravest.
New York Says Thank You is a volunteer organization that helps disaster victims around the country in their recovery. Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, the group sends volunteers to an area that needs help rebuilding from a tornado, hurricane or wildfire.
Founder Jeff Parness said the idea for the organization came from his son. In 2003, after a wildfire ravaged Southern California, Parness’ five-year-old son Evan suggested sending his old toys to the kids in California who lost their homes in the wildfires. Since then, the organization has aimed to help people across the country, as a way to show its appreciation for the support New York City received in the wake of 9/11.
“New Yorkers will never forget what people did for us in our time of need,” said Parness. “It’s about paying it forward.”
Usually, volunteers from New York travel to other areas of the country to help people recover from disaster. But this year, the tables were turned. The organization saw a need in their own backyard — the first responders who protect others’ lives each day, were still struggling to rebuild their own lives after Hurricane Sandy.
“It really came full circle,” said Parness. “We’re thrilled to be able to do this for our hometown. It’s personal for us.”
Parness said that more than half of the roughly 300 volunteers they had for this year’s trip were disaster survivors that the group had helped in previous years. People came from Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and even as far as Hawaii to help the people of New York.
The main project for this year’s four-day trip, from Sept. 5-8, was rebuilding the home of NYPD officer Charlie Sadler. Sadler’s home on West Walnut Street suffered substantial damage during the storm. He and his wife, Gina, had only been married for three months, and for the first few weeks after Sandy, they found themselves moving among relative’s houses and sleeping on couches. They eventually found a place to rent in East Rockaway, but they weren’t sure what to do about the house.