Area volunteers who paid it forward to hurricane survivors on the East Coast earlier this month came home eager to continue the work of bringing hope to disaster-stricken communities around the country.
The National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11 brought volunteers with the New York Says Thank You Foundation and Stars of Hope to New York and New Jersey for a week to assist with rebuilding homes and to coordinate star painting for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy, which struck the coast in October 2012.
Nels Summers and her daughter, Renae, and granddaughter, Sinowy, of Minot represented Stars of HOPE Minot at the events. Also participating in foundation activities and attending the Sept. 11 memorial were Jennifer Issendorf of Kramer and Gary Nelson of Stanley and Lake Metigoshe, whose daughter, Ann, was one of three former North Dakotans who died in the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
“It was really humbling and rewarding,” said Issendorf, who spent time in the New York City neighborhood of Breezy Point. She helped remove sand and debris from decks and around homes.
Issendorf is a ski instructor at Bottineau Winter Park, where foundation volunteers from various states gathered last year to aid in the building of Annie’s House, an adaptive ski lodge in memory of Ann Nelson.
As a representative of the winter park, Issendorf handed the official New York Says Thank You tool belt to Charlie Sadler Sr., the father of a New York police officer whose Long Beach home was being rebuilt by volunteers and donations. An annual tradition of the foundation is for the previous year’s project to add a tool and pass the belt to the next project.
The volunteer effort was part of a larger commitment by the foundation to rebuild 200 homes of under-insured, active-duty New York City first responders displaced by Hurricane Sandy. More than 200 volunteers had been expected to attend.
Meanwhile, the Summers family took part in Stars of HOPE paints at Long Beach, Howard Beach and Seaside, N.Y., and Long Branch, N.J., between Sept. 10 and 14. There were about 500 stars painted in Howard Beach alone, said Nel Summers.
“There were so many people in that room and they came and went and came and went. It was just amazing the number of people,” she said. “They were all upbeat and excited, wanting to know what the stars meant, and were so much saying, ‘We need to pay this forward.'”
Many of the volunteers came from communities, like Minot, that had experienced disasters, had benefited from Stars of Hope and wanted to pay it forward. They included residents of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and Iowa.
“The returns you get from it yourself are just tremendous,” Summers said, adding that she has seen “how much people appreciate being remembered when they are at their lowest, after you have had water in your home or a tornado rip through your neighborhood. It means so much to you that somebody cares and somebody is helping.”
In September 2012, Minot was the site of a Stars of HOPE paint, coordinated by volunteers in Joplin, Mo. Volunteers with Stars of HOPE last January forwarded stars to the East Coast for immediate posting. The latest events in New York and New Jersey gave residents of the affected communities an opportunity for healing by allowing them to paint words of encouragement on wooden stars to add to those already posted.
Stars of Hope Minot sent about 2,000 cut stars, of which about half had been base painted.
Summers and Issendorf both said the hurricane-impacted coast was reminiscent of Minot’s flood recovery.
“There were places where the houses were torn down. There were places you could see people still working on houses,” Summers said. A new building code imposed since the hurricane requires houses to be elevated, which means as much as an eight-foot rise for some homes, she said.
Issendorf joined Stars of Hope volunteers on Sept. 7 in Long Beach and took part in a new project called Healing Headbands. People wrote messages of encouragement on bandannas that then were tie-dyed. The headbands will be given to first responders.
Issendorf said the project was meaningful to her as a First Responder with the ambulance squad serving the Bottineau, Kramer and Newburg areas.
Another meaningful event came after attending a memorial ceremony at Ground Zero in New York City. She visited a building containing a room restricted to families of victims, who leave pictures, flowers, mementoes or letters.
“It moved me. I was in tears at that point,” said Issendorf, who visited the room with Gary Nelson. She left a letter for Ann in a spiral-bound book of letters.
Issendorf, who knew Ann Nelson as a fellow skier, grew up with the winter park as her second home. Her father was a park board member, and she and her brother and sister participated on the park’s downhill race team, She served as a team coach before moving to Minot. Since returning to the Bottineau area, she has been involved in the ski training program and efforts to get the adaptive ski training program going. She has been photographing the construction progress on the new lodge and provides a variety of other assistance as needed at the park.
The new lodge is scheduled to open this winter, but it will depend on getting the volunteer labor to finish the project, she said. Volunteers are needed for jobs including landscaping, painting, arranging furnishings, vacuuming and washing windows. From her own experience, volunteering is a worthwhile activity, Issendorf said.
“It’s been fun. It’s been hard work, but it’s something I can look back on and say I was a part of that,” she said.
One of the highlights for the Summers family in New York was the closing ceremony with the National 9/11 Flag, destroyed at the World Trade Center and stitched back together by volunteers who included threads from pieces of historic flags and fabrics. The Summers helped fold the large flag to complete the ceremony.
Nel Summers said the next project for Stars of HOPE is scheduled for December in Moore, Okla., which is recovering from a tornado. There also are plans to support residents in Colorado who recently suffered floods. Stars of HOPE Minot expects to be involved in those efforts.