Nearly 30 Drew University employees played hooky from work on January 17 to go to the beach—and they did so with the school’s full support, thanks to a policy that guarantees paid leave for community service. Instead of having fun in the sun, the group spent the day working alongside Americorps volunteers in Union Beach, N.J., and its sister city Keansburg, where the recovery effort after Superstorm Sandy is ongoing.
“The excellence of Drew’s faculty and staff is what makes our university so outstanding,” says University President Vivian A. Bull. “Our policy on service leave enables them to serve others.”
According to Amy Sugerman, assistant director of Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement and the organizer of January’s trip, the university’s relief team was divided up into three groups after arriving at Union Beach’s FEMA headquarters. She says Union Beach was selected to be the focus of Drew’s relief effort to build on Madison’s ongoing recovery partnership with that community. The first team focused on removing debris from the shoreline, while a second group spent the day assisting an elderly homeowner with cleanup and demolition inside her house. The third group, which included Sugerman herself, canvassed door-to-door in devastated neighborhoods to make local residents aware of help that’s available to them through Americorps.
“When we were approaching our first house, we could hear people inside trying to figure out why we were there,” Sugerman says. “They were suspicious because our clipboards made us look like solicitors. It was very rewarding to see their suspicion turn to gratitude when they realized we were there to help.”
The group that was assigned to beach cleanup was asked to help haul away household items—like furniture, books and electronics—that were swept out of flooded homes during the storm, Sugerman says. They were shocked, she adds, to find much larger objects as well.
“Nothing could have prepared them to see an entire house resting on the beach after being torn off its foundation in the storm,” she says.
The Drew Center for Civic Engagement’s recent trip to the Jersey shore is part of its effort to cultivate a university-wide culture of service that’s inclusive of faculty, staff and students. The center also administers the school’s Civic Scholars program, which provides special curricula and merit scholarships for students with a proven record of service and leadership. The January 17 trip was co-sponsored by Drew’s University Staff Association and its student-driven Disaster Relief Committee, which was originally founded to provide assistance to Gulf Coast communities following Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact.