BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the tri-state, it destroyed beaches, homes and the boardwalks as well. For Peapack resident and Hofstra University freshman Kayla Smith, this hit home because since she was a kid, she spent her summers in Lavallette with her grandmother who lived there.
Over the years, she became close friends with people that live there and treasured the time she spent at the shore.
“We love hanging out on the boardwalks and going to the beach at night,” Smith said. “It’s our favorite place in the world.”
One of her friends cannot move back to their home until March and Smith’s grandmother lost her house completely. Seeing the devastating pictures of the beach on the news, Smith realized she had to do something. So, around Halloween, she and her friends agreed they would try to help with the recovery efforts.
“Even though it’s a vacation destination, there are people who live there all year round and they are hurting,” she said.
They created a charity where all of the money would go towards fixing the boardwalks in Seaside Heights, Ortleee Beach and Lavallette. With the assistance of her father, Patrick Smith, who owns Smith Chiropractic in Berkeley Heights, they set up the Jersey Strong Project, a 503© non-profit organization.
With the help of her mom’s co-worker, who designed t-shirts for the organization, they began selling them in December and have raised a lot of money and been well received within the community. Smith has sold shirts at school and many people have purchased ones from her dad at his office.
“People really want to help,” she said. “Everybody knows somebody that was affected by it.”
Smith said the goal is to present a check to the mayor’s in each town by the end of January and continue selling after that. She and her friends also toured Seaside Heights and spent some time cleaning a section of a beach. It was an eye opening experience, she said.
“Anything that you can imagine would be in a house, it’s on the beach,” she said.
Surprisingly, on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/jerseystrongproject, there have been some negative posts saying they shouldn’t be taken seriously because they are kids and why aren’t they giving to individuals or the Red Cross. Smith said it is a common misconception that towns have private funds to repair boardwalks, when in fact construction of this type is extremely expensive.
People can donate money or purchase a t-shirt for $20 at Smith Chiropractic in Berkeley Heights. For questions call 908-202-3533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.