FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Among the lessons that Fairfield County residents learned after Hurricane Sandy a year ago was that neighbors can count on each other.
For Fairfield native Katie Boland, this was no surprise. But how quickly her desire to clean up the Jennings Beach area gained a foothold in the Fairfield community sure did as large numbers of volunteers came forward to do the job.
Putting together the clean up in the residential area around Jennings Beach was a monumental job after Hurricane Sandy devastated the homes and beach in the area. And she did most of it from out of town with her two friends, Lindsey Morton and Kelly Niznansky, via Facebook.
“I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity on a regular occasion -- I lead a lot of teams internationally. So I was like, 'Oh, I could just get a work group' and get a bunch of people to meet with some rakes and bags and we could just clean up a couple yards around Kelly's parents house,” Boland said, which led to the start of the Facebook page. "The next thing we knew it just kind of spread."
From the moment the call went out on Facebook to the time they met at the beach on Nov. 11, 2012, Boland's project had gained nearly 1,000 volunteers.
The project was meant to be just around the area near Niznansky's parents. But other neighbors and residents kept telling her and the other volunteers to move closer to the beach where they needed more help.
Among the things she and many others learned from this experience was that someone in the community needed to take charge. Many volunteers came forward to help, but they needed someone to step up and take the reins.
One of the many lessons she learned was that although many people in town wanted to help, a direction and a leader were needed to make the effort move forward. Finding the volunteers was no problem, finding someone to lead was another, she said.
For Boland and her friends, the cleanup job was an experience they’ll never forget. “I still can't believe I pulled all that off,” Boland said.
The beach area is still benefiting from the massive cleanup of sand and debris that the volunteers did last November. But many residents are still trying to figure out how to pick up and move on after Sandy devastated many of the area homes.
"I believe that it changed me, it changed Fairfield," Boland said of the storm -- and of the cleanup effort.