Reconnecting, Reflecting and Re-energizing: Creative NJVOAD Tackles The “What’s Next?” Question of Recovery Work

November 16, 2015

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On Thursday, October 22, 2015 — almost three years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey — Creative New Jersey teamed up with the New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NJVOAD) to bring together its statewide member network for a day-long Call to Collaboration.

This meeting was an opportunity for our state’s unsung heroes to step back from the day-to-day essential recovery work and instead reflect on what has been learned in the years since Sandy and deliberate on how to integrate those lessons moving forward.

More than 100 representatives from New Jersey’s Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs), faith-based organizations, social service agencies, case management workers, local, state and Federal officials and other nonprofits involved in recovery work came from all corners of the state to attend this gathering, hosted by the Spring Lake Manor, to tackle the question of the day:

“How can we harness the best learning from our ongoing recovery efforts in order to implement those innovative practices in the future?”

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The room was buzzing from the moment people arrived: these were people who, by and large, had been working together for the better part of three years, sometimes in person, often over the phone or virtually, to keep the difficult and complex work of the recovery moving forward. Many caught up with colleagues and touched base on new information and upcoming events.

This was a gathering of people who know exactly what is and isn’t working on the state of recovery in New Jersey; a room full of people who have given selflessly of themselves, sometimes under extreme conditions, in order to help thousands of New Jerseyans recover from Sandy.

“It is often the case that after a disaster there are lessons learned but it is rare to actually have the knowledge gained from these experiences be effectively evaluated and implemented,” said Sue Marticek, Executive Director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group. “Creative New Jersey’s Open Space convening has provided a platform for reflection and discussion that moves knowledge from each individual into a collective masterpiece of solutions that will enviably be the change agent that will makes NJ nonprofits be better equipped to respond to future disaster events.”

Throughout our day-long Creative NJVOAD convening, participants self-organized to lead 29 different discussions, ranging from volunteer expectations, to knowledge transitions as many LTRGs and government contracts are sun-setting, to advocating for continued recovery funding into years 4-plus, to accountability at all levels, to continuity of essential programs.

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One participant stated that she hadn’t expected her conversation to go as “deep as it did,” and shared highlights from a conversation about the vital but unexpected need to sensitively prepare/counsel volunteers (many of whom came from lower income brackets), to help muck-out mansions along the Jersey Shore and assist what appeared to be high-income families.

Another individual shared that as a result of her participation in the convening, she will be adding youth to her Long Term Recovery Committees to make sure that their voices are heard and their ideas are shared.  Furthermore, another group saw an idea suggested at the beginning of their 45-minute session blossom into a pilot project with willing collaborators and next steps by the end of their breakout.

Participants expressed their gratitude for each other. Many shared in the closing circle how energizing it was to be in the same room together and how excited they were by the ideas and passion of others in the room. One person shared that it is the relationships that make the recovery move — knowing who to call, what organization can help, and that reaffirming and strengthening those relationships is a key component of the success of any recovery effort.

“What an energizing and enlightening event! It was so wonderful to convene with recovery partners across the state to reflect on lessons learned,” said Kelly Higgs, NJVOAD Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Coordinator and co-coordinator of the convening. “When we join forces and find a common voice, we are so much stronger and more effective. I look forward to being part of this movement to make meaningful changes which will positively impact the future of response and recovery in New Jersey.”

We know that a tremendous amount has been accomplished by these recovery leaders and countless others, in the past three years.  As we look to the future, although there is still a great deal of work to be done, we can be confident that if these nonprofit, faith-based and state agency leaders are given the appropriate resources to do their important work, New Jersey will experience a full and complete recovery in the years to come.

Funding for this Creative NJVOAD Call to Collaboration was generously provided by the New Jersey Recovery Fund, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.