As you undoubtedly know, my family and I are from the Jersey Shore and while I currently live in Los Angeles, I was deeply saddened and touched by both the devastation of Hurricane Sandy as well as the many hearts and homes opened to help others in need. I was incredibly moved by the dozens of texts and calls from my east coast friends checking in on my family and asking what they could do to help as well as the countless messages from my west coast friends offering their love and prayers. Thankfully, my loved ones are all safe and doing well. My mom and brothers lost power and water for days, but they were able to rely on the kindness of friends and neighbors. My father, on the other hand, is working through what he calls "a terrible inconvenience," as he refuses to call it a "tragedy."
My dad, Joe, and his fiancÃ©e, Vickie, had a bungalow situated on the lagoon in Toms River, NJ. This beautiful home of theirs was a labor of love that turned into the hub of fun and festivities on many summer nights and was destined to be their soon-to-be retirement sanctuary after their many years working in the real estate industry. What was once the place we all gathered on Christmas Eve in front of an impressive snowman collection that took years to accumulate, is now a skeleton of a house that's been ravaged by 4 feet of waves and stands covered in mold and mildew. Years of memories saved in photo albums and hard drives have literally been washed away, but we are all doing our best to hold onto them in our hearts.
The shell of a house that now sits upon a cracked foundation has been completely totaled, and even after two whole months, they are waiting for insurance adjustors to finalize the damage. Every time my father calls, he's told "tomorrow," or "next week," and still no one has come out to assess the damage. There are many people waiting in similar situations (and in circumstances far more challenging) and that awareness keeps him grounded and grateful that they are even able to evacuate and seek refuge at his fiancÃ©e's son's home nearby so they can continue to work, spend time with family, and lead a normal semblance of a life. Their needs are all met and they are living life as usual.
When Sandy first hit, I called my dad every day and listened as he told me accounts of neighbors and friends all pitching in to "restore the shore." His stories were all of hope, upliftment, and the kindness of others. He couldn't talk enough about the students from Western Michigan University who organized an entire mission trip to the shore and helped him clear out all of his belongings from couches to carpets to the curb to get picked up. My father's ability to see hope and growth in the face of challenge and adversity is what I admire about him. When I asked my dad if there was any way in which I could support him, his answer to me was simple and selfless: "If you want to do anything for me, use your incredible resources and abilities to raise money for those ten kids who donated their time, hard work, and energy to us so they can help others. I have everything I need."
After visiting New Jersey at Christmastime, I saw that. My dad and Vickie do have everything they need "“ friends, family, food to eat, jobs they love, and a warm place to stay. Those are the things they truly value and cherish. They don't NEED anything. So why, then, am I fundraising for them? Because if there's anything my father taught me, it's that by giving to people who are generous (like those amazing students), they will be in a better position to keep giving to others in need. My dad may have everything he needs, but I'm looking to put him in a position to get back to giving to others. I want his cup to overflow so that he may continue to touch the lives of many. His entire community has been devastated by Super Storm Sandy and there are so many people who still need clothing, food, and shelter and it's my father's nature to help any and all that he can. This money will help him accomplish that. This money is meant to help him help others. Part of doing that means also helping himself. In fact, his motivation to build a new home is so that he can throw a Fourth of July party for everyone to come and celebrate with him. He is always extending his heart and home to others and I'm fundraising to build those both back up so he can continue sharing them with others.
Furthermore, part of my fundraising plan is to do what my father would do: give 10% of whatever we raise to give back to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Western Michigan University who devoted their time, money, energy, and blessings to fly out and help my father and countless others restore their faith and their homes. My intention is to financially support them in flying back out on another mission trip to continue helping those in need. In order to honor these 10 "angels" as my dad calls them, I would like to mention their names: Khalkha Griffin, Brock Crystal, Quinn McCormick, Kelsey King, Sophie Roberts, Nick Norton, Jacob Lenning, Elizabeth Lenning, William Guedes and Mitch Zajac. We all thank you.
Whatever you are able to offer, whether it's a financial donation or simply an expression of love, is going to a great place. My father and his community need to build a brand new houses and my intention is to show them that they've been built with the love and support of family, friends, and a bigger community:.and THAT is what will make these new houses feel like home. The money raised will go toward the UWM volunteers who helped in the community as well as to my dad and the many people in my dad's neighborhood who are rebuilding. Anything and everything you give with your heart is appreciated. I'm grateful to all of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
- Barry Stracner
- Noushin Bayat
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- Deanna Lopez
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