NYC Trips Reveals Pressing Needs More than Four Months After Hurricane Sandy

Recently I took a whirlwind, 28- hour trip to New York City to attend BBB Charity Effectiveness Symposium, “Resilient New York” at Baruch College. My hope was to uncover the “good ideas’ “and the unmet needs that I alluded to in my last blog post.

I wanted to attend to hear how NYC-affected NGOs and funders were talking about resiliency. I knew that I had landed in the right room when David Birdsell, Dean and Professor, Baruch College School of Public Affairs started speaking eloquently about building a stronger future in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

He spoke about the dictionary definition of resilience and linked it to what he witnessed in Sandy relief and recovery activities: organizations demonstrating resilience in their willingness to stretch beyond their usual service areas even when their own organizations were affected.

Ronna Brown, President of Philanthropy New York, and a Board member of CDP moderated the first panel. She and panelists Emary Aronson, Managing Director, Education & Relief Fund, Robin Hood; Marilyn Gelber, President, Brooklyn Community Foundation; and, David Okorn, Executive Director, Long Island Community Foundation uncovered several reminders of what we already know:

  • Vulnerable populations are the most hurt in a disaster;
  • On Long Island, 90% of residents were without power for more than two weeks; incurred $8.5 billion in property damages; and, suffered $10 billion in lost wages and revenues’
  • 48,000 people in NYC were not stably housed (28,000 of them children) before the storm even hit; and
  • Funders do collaborate, and do it often.

And she offered many learnings…

  • Shoe leather grantmaking reveals the unmet needs in the immediate relief phase (with the panel offering a chuckle to the audience saying “find out where the long lines are”).
  • Grantmakers need to ensure that their grantees have disaster recovery plans in place
  • There isn’t enough money to fix all of everything following Hurricane Sandy, so how do grantmakers make sure that people are warm and safe for the future?
  • The policy issues that arise from disasters include public housing and issues of affected coastal communities, among others.

And, some wonderful successful grantmaking strategies…

  • Be nimble. Grantmakers should not overwhelm potential grantees with long-proposal-review-processes-and-long-application-forms-in-the-middle-of-a-crisis.
  • Be transparent. Put the grants you award up on your website. State the amount of the grant, the recipient, and the goal for the funds.
  • Be good stewards. If dollars are raised with the intent to allocate for relief, honor that intention.

Later in the day, I put my shoe leather to the test by going to meet David Okorn; Jenny Sharfstein Kane from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City; and Emary Aronson, in person. It was time to roll up my sleeves and dig into the “good ideas” conversation. Over the course of these three conversations, we discussed the following:

  • Housing is a priority: We need to support hard-hit, low-income, beach neighborhoods that are in jeopardy of displacement because of residents’ potential inability to rebuild to the standard of the new codes. In addition, we should help support group homes (for disabled individuals or victims of domestic violence) so that residents are able to return or remain in their homes. Finally consider homeowner assistance in the form of grants or loans, or support of the Housing Collaborative that is being spearheaded by Deutsche Bank to ensure that community voices are brought to the rebuilding process.
  • People have unanticipated needs: Many affected individuals go directly to their houses of worship for support – so then, how do we as grantmakers support those houses of worship? And sadly many immigrant communities may not feel comfortable accessing government assistance.
  • Remember people on the front lines. The sooner civil servants can return to their homes the better. Nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers are the backbone and need to take priority. We also need to recognize that providers are also personally affected. And Sometimes we forget about volunteers VOADs (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) are an integral part of effective disaster recovery and often in need of financial support to offset operations.
  • Invest in education and childcare: Consider funding to support childcare centers so that preschoolers are in a safe and learning environment, or to support for educational initiatives that help school children make up for missed school days;
  • Help rebuild business: Microgrants to small businesses to ensure that they are able to reopen quickly and successfully are a wise investment. Also supporting beach communities and affected businesses can help bring tourism back to New York and New Jersey shores.

During my conversation with Ms. Aronson, she reminded me that the question of “unmet needs’” is slightly misplaced in a land where no need is completely met just yet. I welcome your insights into this conversation – your feedback, your help, and your ideas are of critical importance to our work. Email me directly with your thoughts at I’d love to hear from you!

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