It was the hurricane that left the most damage in 2012 and 2nd most expensive hurricane in US history. Hurricane Sandy last 11 days from start to finish, ripped through 8 countries, created about $75 billion in damages and killed over 250 people. As with Hurricane Katrina, people are still recovering. The campus of Georgian Court University, the Mercy Institution of New Jersey was evacuated with a small number remaining behind with residence life staff. These students either had nowhere else to go or it was safer on campus than where they lived. Out of state students tried to get flights home, people were packing cars. It was a dizzy few days preparing for the unknown. When all was said and done, people jumped into action to help.
Just hours after the storm passed, a small group of essential personnel met to assess damages and to begin repairing the campus so students could be brought back safely. Knowing that many of the students had potentially lost books, clothing, food and maybe even their homes, campus facilities and IT offices worked around the clock to re-open the campus and to create an online portal where students could report what they lost. The online portal, GCUCares was created.
It took off with such speed and tracked an incredible need for our community. Students, faculty and staff were reporting in with lost laptops, destroyed textbooks, lost clothing, no food, loss of appropriate shelter, flooded cars, no baby food…the list goes on. People were reporting in for those who didn’t have internet access. Everyone from faculty, staff and students were using this portal to report what they needed. People of all walks of life in the GCU community needed help.
Then, the hard part. We knew there would be tremendous need, but how could we help everyone? We signed up for alerts from food/clothing banks and FEMA. We attended a meeting with all the service agencies in the county to learn what needs each were able to meet. From there, we contacted our community members who needed assistance to match them up with services.
Five days after Hurricane Sandy, a untimely winter storm dumped over a foot of snow on already weakened infrastructure. Needs increased. Resources needed to be replenished. Students and staff who were able to help sprang to action. Out of GCUCares came GCU Day of Service. Food and clothing were of the most need and we collected for almost a week. We collected over $10,000 in food and clothing to donate to local agencies like United Way and Ocean County Food bank.
This amazing network created the foundation of GCUCares. We knew there were students in need even before the storm hit, but no mechanism was in place to capture it. This portal, still functioning to this day in the form of a Student Concerns Team, led to the creation of a Case Manager position (that’s me!) on our campus to help meet the needs of students.
Service has always been an important aspect in the mission of GCU, but this disaster brought the community closer together and that bond continues even four years later.