On Thursday, May 30th, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined over three dozen SCA volunteers on Jacob Riis Beach to kick off this summer's Hurricane Sandy Recovery effort. Dressed for hands-on service in work pants and a t-shirt, the Secretary announced the launch of the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservation & Resiliency Corps, a summer partnership between SCA, the Department of the Interior, and the City of New York. The program, part of an initiative to hire 17,000 youth to work on public lands this year, will help to ensure that Jacob Riis and other public lands in New York City and New Jersey receive much-needed support in the continuing storm recovery effort.
"President Obama is committed to connecting youth, particularly youth from cities, to public lands," said Secretary Jewell. Before putting on her hardhat to spend the rest of the morning with shovel in hand, Secretary Jewell also recognized SCA founder Liz Titus Putnam, who was among the guests at the event. "Liz Titus Putnam has set the course for youth in conservation," the Secretary announced.
With her SCA hardhat firmly in place, Secretary Jewell led the charge to unbury a public stairway providing access to the Jacob Riis Promenade. Liz Titus Putnam and SCA President Dale Penny worked alongside, shoveling sand into wheelbarrows to be returned to the beach. "You're really working that shovel!" commented one alum in awe as the silver-haired founder matched the teenage members stride for stride. "That's what shovels are for!" Liz Titus Putnam replied cheerfully.
Jacob Riis Park, encompassing a mile of exposed waterfront on Rockaway Peninsula, experienced the full force of Hurricane Sandy. The storm surge poured into the historic Art Deco bathhouse, sand swallowed the boardwalk and stairways, and the parking lot became a dumping ground for storm debris. Seven months after Sandy, a few cautious beachcombers are returning, but a staggering amount of restoration work remains to be done – at Jacob Riis, and at other park units in Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and Sandy Hook.
Takeya Meggett, a local New Jersey resident and five-time SCA alum who calls herself a "product of SCA," is helping to recruit young people to jumpstart the Sandy restoration effort in the field this summer. At Thursday's event Takeya shared stories of local high school students who devoted their lunch hours to completing SCA applications. One student submitted an application essay promising, "I'm not ready to give up on my parks."
Beginning this month, there will be over 200 SCA volunteers in the field completing restoration work around the parks of New York Harbor. Ten Conservation Crews of local high school students, directed by trained SCA crew leaders, will complete labor-intensive restoration projects while gaining green job skills and learning about the importance of conservation in their communities. Other volunteers will also be engaged in special service projects through support from American Eagle Outfitters.
James Coyle, who will be joining an SCA crew for the first time, called the kick-off event "an amazing first experience." A New Jersey native, James has a strong personal stake in the recovery effort: "This project is very close to my heart, as my grandmother's home and neighborhood were heavily damaged by Sandy," he says. "I am really looking forward to working with SCA and helping my community to recover from the storm!"
By the end of the day, three stairway areas had been cleared to give visitors restored access to the promenade – and dozens of wheelbarrows full of sand had been returned to the shore. More importantly, SCA members, crew leaders, staff, and alumni had come together with National Parks leaders to inspire hope for Jacob Riis Beach, and for other public lands affected by Sandy.
"Working with Secretary Jewell and Liz Titus Putnam at the site and then sitting down to lunch with these two amazing women was an experience I'll carry with me for the rest of my life," said crew member James Coyle. And this was just the opening event. With 200 SCA volunteers heading into the field this summer, the Sandy Recovery Program is poised to give public lands across New York City and New Jersey a welcome boost in the aftermath of the storm – while offering local youth the chance to play a leading role in that recovery effort.