Volunteers Spend MLK Day Participating in Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

Photo: (Jose Iniguez/MTV Act)

History met history on this day as Americans across the country celebrated both President Barack Obama’s second inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At the nation’s capital, President Barack Obama raised his right hand and placed his left on bibles once owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln as he was welcomed into his second term. Meanwhile, miles away in New York’s Rockaways community, volunteers placed both their two hands on shovels, hammers, and wheel barrels for a Day of Service alongside St. Bernard Project, New York Cares, AmeriCorps and MTV Act.

While nearly a million gathered on the National Mall and many more in front of TV sets, some of the volunteers that gathered in the Rockaways community hit hard by Hurriance Sandy listened to the President’s remarks from a work truck’s stereo as they gutted damaged houses.

“Today is a very fitting day to send a message of service across,” New York Cares team leader Christina Vuong told MTV Act. [Martin Luther King Jr.] said that the most pressing question you can ask yourself is, ‘What can you do for others?’” This morning, there was plenty of work to do.

Vuong and five volunteers started their day by visiting the home of Mike Dougherty, a police officer in Brooklyn for 27 years. The team of volunteers removed damaged wooden framing from Dougherty’s basement. His home sits only a few yards from shore and ended up submerged in over 6 feet of water. “I have never feared for my life as I did during Sandy,” Dougherty said about the superstorm that left dozens of New Yorkers without shelter only blocks away.

Photo: From left to right, homeowner Mike Dougherty, team leader Christina Vuong, and volunteers Sarah Loehr, Maria Mogaver, Jolie Harris Woodon, Chris Mortifoglio, and Kenneth Yee. (Jose Iniguez/MTV Act)

One of the volunteers at the Dougherty household was Kenneth Yee, a 21-year-old student at Stonybrook University who described the storm’s damage as “very surreal.” He’s been volunteering with AmeriCorps since last year, and like MLK and Vuong, wanted to inspire others to make a difference. “You have to come out here and see the damage to see that it’s real. This hurricane hit hard, and the damage is real.”

A group very familiar with this sort of recovery is St. Bernard Project, a non-profit rebuilding organization was established after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the day’s efforts in the Rockaways, the group hosted 24-hour recovery efforts in New Orleans and Joplin, Missouri.

Josh Chiero, a 26-year-old senior site supervisor with St Bernard Project, expressed his gratitude to volunteers like Kenneth who have played a major part in helping recovery efforts progress. “When we first got here, it was mostly gutting houses that were floded where mold was taking over, he told us. “Now we’re geting to the work orders to get homeowners ready for rebuilding in the spring.”

Photo: Kenneth Yee (left) watches on as team leader Christina Vuong (right) surveys damage with another volunteer. (Jose Iniguez/MTV Act)

Photo: Volunteers remove debris from a home just feet from the beach. (Jose Iniguez/MTV Act)

Photo: A wrecked home in the Rockaways. (Jose Iniguez/MTV Act)

One of those work orders was at a home where Christina’s morning team joined another team of about a dozen other AmeriCorps and New York Cares volunteers who had already started removing a debris. Brick, cement, wooden framing, beach sand, and even surfboard remnants were piled inside the home’s garage (pictured above). But within hours, most of the debris — which would have taken the homeowner weeks or months to remove — was completely gone, proving that even a day’s worth of volunteering makes a tremendous difference.

In addition to the home rebuilding projects, volunteers (including our very own managing editor, Alexis Tirado!) made their way to M.S. 053 in the Rockaways to paint a mural for students whose community was deeply affected.

Photo: (Alexis Tirado/MTV Act)

MTV will head back to Sandy-affected areas again this spring for an alternative spring break trip, Spring Fix. To learn more about those efforts and how you can get involved visit springfix.mtv.com, or take action below.

“To serve you only really need two things: a heart that’s full of grace and a soul that’s generated by love,” Vuong added. And if you have either of those things, then by all means come on down here because there’s a lot of love and joy that comes from doing this work.”