Helping hands after hurricane

UIC’s volunteer group included: (top row) Ezra Monasebian, Maor Gutwaks, Barrett Goldflies and Sean Jacobs; (bottom row) Leah Edelman, Chaya Moskovitz, Aaron Bovit and Ali Terkel. “It’s important for all students to take initiative,” Edelman says. Photo: Ali Terkel

Last October, the world watched as Hurricane Sandy tore through the lives and homes of those in New York and New Jersey.

The Hurricane, dubbed “Frankenstorm,” caused nearly $19 billion in damages to New York City alone, prompting massive recovery efforts in the region.

Among the volunteers were seven students from the UIC Levine Hillel Center. They joined eight others from three other area universities, spending three days of their winter break helping to rebuild the community in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Leah Edelman, a sophomore studying computer graphics, was one student who chose to give back, when she could have easily kicked back after a long fall semester.

“I’m pretty big on community service, I’ve been volunteering for things since high school, but I’ve never really done anything like this, so hands-on before,” Edelman said.

Sean Jacobs, a sophomore in public administration/public affairs, also made the trip.

“My whole life I’ve been raised to give back,” Jacobs said. “I personally like going about my life helping others and improving other people’s lives.”

Wearing masks and gloves, the group was tasked with deconstructing the water-damaged area.

“It came naturally to me — I was able to just tear apart a wall,” Edelman said. “I didn’t even need tools, I was really surprised.”

Students got on their hands and knees to gut a water-logged Jewish synagogue riddled with mold and structural wall and ceiling damage.

Individual homes in the area were also deconstructed, stripping the houses of intolerable mold and foundational issues.

The second day of the trip, students helped a family with five children. Their appreciation made a lasting impression.

The mother “was just overcome with gratitude, she was almost crying,” Edelman said. “She was so appreciative she bought us all pizza for lunch. That was the first time I had New York pizza.”

While there were many firsts for the volunteer group, the dedication of other volunteers created a unique sense of perspective for Jacobs.

“We were just there for a couple of days, but some people are making a full-time commitment helping people get back on their feet,” he said. “It ended up to be a life-changing experience.”

Small efforts can often mean the most, and it is arguably groups like these that inspire others to do the same.

“I think it’s important for all students to take initiative,” Edelman said.  “When something happens in the world, we have to ask ourselves, ‘what is our responsibility?’”

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