For junior Alyssa Stefanese, the most recent Livingston CARES trip to Staten Island, N.Y. was more than another volunteer opportunity. “With Staten Island, it’s my home,” Stefanese said. She is a Staten Island resident whose family is still displaced as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Shortly after the disaster occurred, Stefanese first voiced the idea of a trip to Staten Island to Associate Dean of Leadership and Service Tom Matthews, whom she already knew from her position on the Livingston CARES Board of Directors.
“I vocalized it a little bit, but I’m sure it would’ve worked without me,” Stefanese said.
On the trip to Staten Island, student and community volunteers worked on a variety of tasks, including dismantling an entire house over the course of three days and painting two stories of a residential home. The average workday was six hours, but volunteers agree that the reward is worth the hard work.
“When you actually talk to a homeowner and see the look on their face … it’s heartwarming,” she said.
As for working on disaster relief so close to home, Stefanese said, “It was like the ‘Twilight Zone.’” She described seeing neighborhoods she used to go with her friends, where houses are completely destroyed and the streets are deserted.
“It’s just bizarre,” she said. “One house will be completely fine, and the next one over will be nothing but a staircase.”
Stefanese’s family currently lives in an apartment near the site of their home, which is still going through reconstruction.
After Hurricane Sandy, certain neighborhoods in Staten Island qualified for buyouts, where the government purchases an area’s property for its pre-disaster value. For others who do not qualify, volunteer assistance is the only way some families can afford to move back into their houses.
With Sandy coverage dying in the media but thousands still displaced, organizations such as Livingston CARES and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation serve as reminders that people have not yet forgotten about hurricane victims.
“Just to see that people still care is so heartwarming to me,” Stefanese said.
The Stephen Siller Foundation, which she worked with on the trip, actually provided the funds and volunteers that gave Stefanese’s brother the means to move back into his home.
Livingston CARES trips are beneficial without a personal connection to the area. Although her third trip was to her hometown, Stefanese joined the club and went on two trips before Hurricane Sandy.
These service trips offer students, faculty and community members the opportunity to connect not only with those they are assisting but also with their peers.
“It brings you bonds you can take back to Geneseo,” Stefanese said.u