Fairfield and the community were hit hard by the tropical storm, but the campus pulled together

Adding to the housing issue was the fact that the 464 students living in the townhouses — the only major structures on campus not connected to the University’s co-gen plant — had to be evacuated. Though the buildings sustained minimal structural damage, they had no lights, sprinklers or heat, so they had to be closed each night for a week until the town’s electric grid was up and running. “Over 200 of these students were accommodated on campus, and others found their own temporary housing,” said Donoghue. “But we also reached out to faculty, staff, and our alumni community, asking if anyone would be willing to house a couple of students for an indefinite amount of time.”

“Within days, we had this overwhelming response from the community,” said Donoghue, noting that 178 people stepped forward to offer an extra bedroom or two, even a guesthouse.

Among them was President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., who opened his home to four seniors whose beach house was flooded. “The National Guard kept everyone off the beach for most of the week, but when we finally got down there you could see that the water had been up to the doorknobs,” said Andrew Cunningham ’13, an accounting major from Massachusetts who was one of the four, with Paul Rosen ’13, Kevin Bachman ’13, and Tyler Haviland ’13. “The walls, staircase, and flooring all had to be ripped out, and the appliances were ruined.” Fortunately, Cunningham said, “our landlord has been great,” and the four were able to move back in mid-January.

While the town struggled to recover, the University became an oasis. The RecPlex opened its showers to town residents, employees, and first responders, many of whom were working long hours and couldn’t get to their own homes. Beds and meals were also made available for the town’s emergency personnel.

Dr. Lisa Mainiero’s business class raised money for Sandy relief.

Dr. Lisa Mainiero’s business class raised money for Sandy relief.

When three local women rallied the town for a beach clean-up day, Steve Parker ’10 both working in the Admissions Office, eagerly organized a contingent of more than 130 University students, alumni, and friends, many traveling a distance to help put “their beach community” back together. Equipped with rakes, shovels, garbage bags, and gloves, teams of volunteers fanned out and were assigned to homes to shovel sand, clear debris, and gut interiors.

In the days after the storm, it became clear that communities in New York and New Jersey suffered a great deal more devastation than Fairfield. To help alleviate the overwhelming needs of neighborhoods in the Rockaways (N.Y.), The Center for Faith and Pubic Life’s JUHAN (Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network) led a dozen students and staff members to the area, where teams spent the day ripping out water-soaked floors and wallboards and shoveling several tons of sand out of homes. The effort continues monthly throughout the spring semester.

Using the storm and its aftermath as a learning experience comes naturally to Fairfield professors. “I tell my classes that, in times of crisis, a true leader takes action,” said Dr. Lisa Mainiero, who teaches classes in management and leadership in the Dolan School of Business. “I’m proud to say my students ran with it, organizing bake sales, coat drives, and candy cane sales. They raised over $1,000 and distributed it to several agencies, and they delivered about 50 coats to an agency in Staten Island. Even more importantly, they showed they can create a leadership platform by developing a vision of who they wanted to help and in what way.”

New Media students used their cameras to document a different story: that of the community coming together over the beach clean up. Says Rachel Greco ’13 in A Sandy Silver Lining, “Sandy may have brought sadness, destruction, and displacement, but she strengthened the town of Fairfield.”

To view A Sandy Silver Lining, go to www.fairfield.edu/sandysilverlining.

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