I grew up looking forward to spending my summers at the Jersey Shore... playing on the beach, heading to the boardwalk, going on rides and eating ice cream after a long sun-filled day... yes, that included going to the now famous Seaside Heights for nights filled with games, rides and zeppoles. As years passed, summers included being at the beach with friends and family as we migrated north of Seaside Heights to the area of Manasquan, Sea Girt & Spring Lake with an occasional trip to LBI. For the past few summers I would start my day with a morning run on the Spring Lake boardwalk, head to the beach with my chair and book, grab a cocktail at the Parker House and end the day at a restaurant on the water watching the beautiful sunsets, laughing with friends. The effects of Hurricane Sandy made me realize that next summer will not be the same -- the runs will not happen because there are no boardwalks, relaxing at the beach might be a struggles since over 1/2 the beach is gone, some local restaurants are now non-existent or are badly damaged and many of those that I use to call my neighbors no longer have homes. This is all so sad, devastating and unimaginable, but we can't control the forces of Mother Nature -- and this storm brought my company, AOL and the Jersey community all together because all for one and one for all. We are forever Jersey Strong!
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast was horrific... power was lost to the greater part of the tri-state area, the surge of flooding was unreal, homes were badly damaged and in too many cases non-existent anymore. Personally, after five days of no electricity, I was finally back in my apartment -- charging up all the electronics I could find -- when I decided to write AOL's CEO, Tim Armstrong, and my management team an email with the suggestion that the AOL NYC Office should find a way to get involved in the recovery efforts. For those of you who do know know Tim Armstrong (who we often refer to as "TA"), he has been AOL's CEO since 2009 and one of his immediate changes he made to the AOL organization was to ingrain volunteerism into the AOL family. Knowing that, I shouldn't have been surprised to find out that there was a team already teed up and working on a larger AOL effort. Conference calls that weekend included a number of people from cross-functional team at AOL all working towards a simple common goal: getting goods to those struggling in NJ and Long Island from Hurricane Sandy.
What happened over the next 24 hours was amazing. Under TA's Leadership, two (2) wheeler trucks were located, branded with AOL Logos and sent to the AOL offices in Baltimore, MD and Dulles, VA. Our AOL employees within these locations spent their weekend shopping to load these trucks with everything from food, clothing, paper products to cleaning supplies and batteries. Once full, the trucks were on their way to the key areas that were in dire need of assistance in New Jersey and Long Island.
Being the lead for the NJ efforts, in 24 hours I was able to organize a group of 37 for the 1st day of effort at the Jersey Shore. Due to a delay in the Dulles trucks arrival in Brick, our Bus was estimated to get the beach with three hours to spare. Putting all of our efforts and time to good use, we proactively reached out to the township of Belmar, which is one of the towns hit the hardest from the storm and within 30 minutes we were put to use in the clean-up efforts. Dividing out into smaller groups, we were each given a list of houses that have called the town in need of help. This form of help was simple... pick up the branches, move the contents of the house that were now garbage to the curb and help the homeowners salvage what was let of their "home." Words cannot explain what we saw with our eyes, but the community welcome and appreciated our AOL efforts. Later that night we unloaded 1/3 of the truck into a school within the town of Brick. I spent time with the superintendent, who was overwhelmed by one -- the amount of AOL'ers involved and two -- the amount of products taken off the truck. It was a late night for these volunteers as we pulled back into NYC around 9 p.m. -- but as a true AOL'er no one complained...
The goal of Day 2 was to unload the rest of the truck in the towns of Neptune and Lincroft... so off the Jersey we went again... The AOL team of 20 worked as an assembly line in Neptune and unloaded into the town's warehouse facility seamlessly. Like clockwork and in the matter of one hour we completed our task at hand and were now off to Lincroft!
Much to our surprise we had company for assistance in the final unloading efforts -- the Air Force! In pure military fashion, the assembly line included a combination or AOL'ers, community volunteers and the Air Force. With all the assistance, we finished fairly quickly which gave me some time to freely talk with the airmen -- my conversations ranged anywhere from asking about their day to day assistance with Sandy victims, to the damaged see through their eyed and the birds-eye view from the air. The feedback I received was upsetting, they have seen homes demolished, fear and sorrow in the eyes of the home/store owners and overall water damage to the beach and land itself. They could not explain in words what the coast looked like through their eyes from the air -- but their facial expressions told me it was horrific.
I have been working at AOL now for 16 years and never before have I been so proud to be a part of this company -- from the support of TA to the work of Jon Brod with the Patch communities to the individuals jobs of the management teams finding trucks, organizing AOL Volunteers to all those AOL'ers who raised their hands to help on the weekends and during normal business hours -- everyone's efforts have been outstanding. AOL has yet again proved that we are in the business of helping people -- period.
Speaking as a NJ Shore resident, my heart goes out to all of those still in need... rest assured knowing that everyone is doing all they can to aid, assist and rebuild. We can all do this as a team -- I certainly hope that AOL has set an example to others.