Editor’s Note: Last summer, Belmar raised $70,000 to help Rockport, Texas, rebuild after Hurricane Harvey — a donation that was delivered personally by then-Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty, who spearheaded the fundraising effort. The following story features a group of young men from Nutley who recently spent a week in Rockport fostering that humanitarian spirit.
NUTLEY, NJ — New Jersey has endured its share of natural disasters over the past decade. So, the selflessness displayed by young local heroes to travel halfway across the country to assist others struggling to recover is truly inspiring.
Nutley Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) embarked on a weeklong journey in July to Rockport, Texas, as 44 volunteers helped serve those impacted by Hurricane Harvey last summer. Rockport is 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
Rockport was slammed on August 25, 2017 by Harvey's heavy rainfall and strong winds, leaving devastation in its wake as it tore through the seaside town of 10,000 residents. Thousands of homes were destroyed.
“A week like this enables us to put into practice what we talk about throughout the year,” said Nutley teacher and coach J.D. Vick. “When you spend six days together, sleeping on cots in a small room, getting up at 6:00 a.m. and going to bed at midnight while working in the Texas heat, it challenges you.”
Vick, who serves as FCA adviser and trip organizer, stressed, “We think it’s good for young men — it's part of becoming a man of integrity, character, and looking at others’ interests more than our own.”
The students divided up into three teams daily to work on different projects during the ongoing rebuild. Nutley High School graduating seniors Anthony Fabiano and Jimmy Quinn were especially moved by the experience.
“The best part of helping with the rebuild was being able to serve people in need after such a destructive hurricane,” said Fabiano. “Some were left homeless after the storm due to the enormous amount of damage, so being able to meet and work for them to get them back on their feet was satisfying.”
Fabiano played basketball and participated in track and field at Nutley High School. He will attend Seton Hall University Business School starting in September.
Rockport and neighboring Fulton were ground zero for Hurricane Harvey and received some of the worst wind and storm surge damage. It made landfall as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 130 mph that battered coastal communities.
“The second day, we went to this lady’s house that was virtually a shack — gutted wiring and overgrown landscaping, and she was living in a tent outside of her house,” said Jimmy Quinn. “She was the most positive person we met and instead of talking about her situation, she was asking us about our college plans. That positivity rubbed off on me and helped me realize a lot of things about myself.”
Quinn enters the University of Richmond this fall, where he will run cross-country and track. He ran all four years at Nutley High School and wrestled his freshman year.
Harvey, which sparked extreme flooding in the surrounding areas in August and September, caused $125 billion in damage according to the National Hurricane Center. Nearly 13,000 people have registered for FEMA assistance in Aransas County, and the agency has approved $22.4 million in aid.
“Many people in Rockport are still hurting — it’s been almost a year since it hit, but they were so encouraged that a group of young men all the way from Jersey would come to serve,” Vick added. “I just can't tell you how proud we are of the way our young men represented Nutley.”
Assisting with the rebuild is Habitat for Humanity, a global nonprofit housing organization working in nearly 1,400 communities across the United States and in approximately 70 countries around the world.
“Most of the work we did there entailed debris removal and landscaping to get everything ready for Habitat to go there,” Quinn said.
Joining Fabiano and Quinn were Kyle Brendel, Ryan Breihof, Louis Conca, Dominic and Dante Contella, Matthew Connor, Giovanni Coppola, Frank DeMaio, Daniel DiAntonio, Tyler Dick, Tayt Ellerbusch, Justin Eltzholtz, Alvaro Flores, Tyler and Connor Genitempo, Brian Grodzki, Aiden Hamlin, Anthony Haines, Matthew Jaworski, James Joyce, Christopher Kruse, Johnathan Luberto, John Matrona, Max Martino, Christopher Mulligan, Aidan Ozdemir, Ryan O’Connor, Nicolas Polewka, Dominic and Louis Raffaelli, Joseph Senatore, Tyler Schoonmaker, Cameron Schilp, Charles Searle, John Van Deventer, Jake Walsh and Gerard Zappia.
“Seeing our young men put in a hard day’s work for others is very rewarding,” said Vick. “We think it's important that young men learn to become hard workers.”
Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world.
FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in America and focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering and encouraging people to make a difference beyond sports.
“I continue to pray for these people due to the unfortunate situation and living conditions they must deal with,” Fabiano added. “I thank God for another amazing learning experience and allowing us to travel to Texas and help those in need. Thanks to Coach Vick and others who made this mission trip possible.”
Several fundraisers took place this spring to help offset the cost of the trip, including a barbeque dinner attended by more than 350 people, among other events.
“A trip like this, you go there to have an impact on others, but you are the one who ends up being impacted in a positive way,” Vick reflected. “Love is not an emotion, it's an action, and that's what our young men did last week.”