By Shanna O’Mara
The lights blew out with a single gust of wind. Water poured into the basement through the cracks in the cinderblock walls. “My mother held my sister and I, praying the big oak out front didn’t come crashing in,”said freshman biology major Lexie Taylor, reflecting on that dark day in October 2012.
It has been two years since Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes around New Jersey and ravaged state beaches, and the fight continues. More than 140 Rider students took part in Make a Difference Day on Oct. 25, during which volunteers were dispatched to 10 different sites around Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean and Mercer Counties.
“Rider community values state that true leadership is derived from service to others,” said Jane Sanchez, Rider University coordinator of community service. “I think this program is going to get us a richer service culture here.”
Approaching the anniversary of the superstorm, Rider University, in coordination with volunteer organizations throughout New Jersey, organized students who wanted to help those still cleaning up and rebuilding. “Make a Difference Day is a national day of service during which people across the country pitch in and engage within their community,” said Sanchez.
Volunteers helping with Sandy recovery gutted a house in Sea Bright to prepare it for a 24-hour renovation project conducted by the St. Bernard Project, an organization focused on ensuring that disaster-impacted citizens and communities recover in a prompt and efficient manner. Additional shore sites included Seven Presidents Beach, New Jersey Bayshore and Manasquan Beach. At each of these locations, groups of approximately 50 participated in beach sweeps.
“Having a cleaner beach will stop all of the metal, plastic, and other items from going into the water and hurting the organisms living in it,” said Greek life service leader Jacqueline Hanna. “So not only are we making a difference for the people, but we’re making a difference for the living creatures in the ocean.”
Other Rider students that took part in Make a Difference Day worked alongside Care Trenton, a local nonprofit organization, to beautify parks in Trenton. Additional students reported to the Children’s Home Society, a resource center for families that have experienced neglect or abuse within their homes. Volunteers helped paint their center, making it more therapeutic in the color selection and creating a more serene environment for residents. At local group homes, volunteers raked leaves, sorted clothes for patients and interacted with residents. Playing games was an easy and fulfilling way to “put a face to the work they’re doing,” said Sanchez.
Approximately 15 volunteers worked at Rider to help paint signs and benches in the Rider Green Acre Garden behind Daly’s. Students also picked weeds, adding them to a compost bin, to prepare the garden for the long winter ahead, said Rider Bonner Community Scholar Program member Veronika Geiger.