By James W. Horne, President/CEO, United Way of Greater Union County
For many of us in the New Jersey tri-state area, we endured one of the worst super storms of our times and with it came the realization that life can affect all of us despite the different circumstances of our lives. Rich, poor, it didn’t matter, we were all affected somehow and with that knowledge came the awful truth that our vulnerabilities are real and can affect anyone at any time.
For us in the Greater Union County area, five towns were most affected by Hurricane Sandy. The super storm caused an enormous amount of property damage as a result of severe flooding. Many trees fell on homes, and winds broke windows and destroyed roofs. But that wasn’t all. Many lost precious mementos, photos, personal property, and items so dear to their hearts. However, almost everyone experienced power outages for days and in some cases, weeks. These were the experiences endured by an entire community as Hurricane Sandy swept through the area.
Although FEMA and other sources provided some relief, those sources typically do not make a family “whole” and if resources are limited, families just didn’t receive everything they needed to gain back some sense of normalcy in their lives.
At United Way of Greater Union County, we invoked a two-pronged strategy; 1) Fundraising and 2) Advocacy. Seems simple, but in reality it wasn’t.
It was difficult to focus many people on our efforts, in the grand scheme of things, when they were dealing with day-to-day stresses. People and businesses were without power for weeks, whole neighborhoods were ravished, food and gas shortages were common, and there were so many people who didn’t know where to turn or what to do. For us, we did what we knew best.
On the fundraising side, we specifically targeted those corporate partners who had employees who were most affected by the storm or did business in the communities affected by the storm. We wrote letters, made calls, and paid visits – all the usual processes. But what we also did was make sure they heard the stories of those families who suffered some of the worse losses in their lives. That wasn’t an easy task as many families suffered and who is to judge who’s suffering was worse than another’s? Our goal was to present the problem to our partners and tell them how they could help and GIVE.
Second, we advocated for and were instrumental in developing the Union County Long-Term Recovery Committee that is designed to provide oversight on recovery efforts and identify needs within the community. We serve as the committee’s fiduciary agent. Also, we made sure we told the stories to the media and through our own tools (i.e. newsletters, web site, social media, etc.) We collected stories from our many community resource network partners and asked them to send photos demonstrating how Sandy relief funds helped those in need. There were so many stories and so much to tell but by consistently advocating for their concerns and showing our support, those who gave, donated even more. Some of our partners even developed team-building workshops to help their employees learn ways to work together under pressure.
I hope we do not have to endure a storm like that ever again, but for me, one of the biggest lessons I learned from all of this is that Mother Nature does not discriminate and when all of us are affected, many of us put our differences aside and help each other. I witnessed a grand real-life example of LIVE UNITED.