By Maria Mottola, Executive Director, New York Foundation
A half hour into a January 31 meeting with leaders in Far Rockaway, I realized we were not talking anymore about Hurricane Sandy. We were talking about disasters, but not of the sort you can blame on the weather. Somehow the hurricane lost its potency as leaders described how isolation, poverty and incidents of violence persistently disrupt life on the peninsula.
I was part of a small delegation (that included staff from the United Way of New York City, the New York Foundation and The New York Community Trust) who visited Far Rockaway to hear from local leaders. But rather than hearing stories about hurricane heroics, we listened to their ideas about youth leadership, public education and community-police relations. They described the challenges they face being so remote from the rest of the city and they presented their vision for how things could be done differently. Mostly, they wanted to be heard.
The Far Rockaway/Arverne Nonprofit Coalition came together with support from the Community Resource Exchange and funding from The New York Community Trust. Cited by one leader we met as “the only meeting I attend that I actually get something out of,” this group of Far Rockaway nonprofits has worked together for a year collaborating and sharing ideas. Their mission became to attract more resources, particularly youth programs, to what they felt was a neglected part of the city.
When Sandy hit, these Far Rockaway/Arverne Nonprofit Coalition members benefited from having already created a working network of trusted partners that includes groups like the Rockaway Youth Task Force, Safe Space, Ocean Bay CDC, the Police Athletic League, the local Precinct Community Council, the Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program, The Child Center of NY, the Queens Public Library, several faith-based groups, and others.
Driving to the meeting in the morning, we commented on evidence of Sandy’s aftermath in officious voices, the way a television news reporter might—the collapsed boardwalk, piles of debris, dismantled porches. On the drive back, though, we didn’t do much pointing. It didn’t seem as important to distinguish between before and after. Instead we wondered, what’s next?