GREENBURGH, N.Y. — While many high schoolers were still sleeping Sunday morning, students from Solomon Schechter's Disaster Relief Club were scrubbing mold off the walls and floors of homes hit by Hurricane Sandy.
About 20 students and faculty members took a bus to Far Rockaway Sunday morning to offer help to several families attempting to put their homes back together more than a month after the hurricane hit. The students are part of a club partnered with the Jewish Disaster Response Corps., a faith-based initiative that assists communities in disaster recovery across the country.
Yali Berger, a junior at Solomon Schechter and co-leader of the Disaster Relief Club, is no stranger to recovery efforts — she traveled to New Orleans with the club last year to help with Hurricane Katrina victims who were still trying to rebuild their lives. Berger said seeing a disaster that hit so close to home on Sunday was "eye-opening."
"In the past, we've been going down to New Orleans during Martin Luther King weekend. But this year we decided to broaden the group to other relief efforts," Berger said. "When Sandy happened, it provided us with the opportunity to help out in our own community. It was clearly our responsibility to act out on that."
The students visited several homes in Far Rockaway and Oceanside, breaking apart sheet rock to clean out the mold and bleaching floors and walls.
"Some people's places were just totally destroyed," Berger said.
In one Oceanside townhouse, Berger said the walls were so damaged that "you could see into the next person's kitchen."
Vivian Nadasdi, chair of Solomon Schechter's Science Department, said it was fantastic that the students gave up their weekend to help the community. Nadasdi serves as the group's advisor, but said it was really students like Berger who took charge.
"I thought it was fantastic the kids would want to get involved," Nadasdi said. "Yali did virtually everything. I was just an adult overlooking what was being done — she basically took the ball and ran with it."
After seeing the difference the group was able to make in just one day, Emily Panken, a senior and group co-leader, said the group plans to visit again.
"The people we met were extremely grateful," Panken said. "It's going to take a long time for even one house to get back to where it was."