LINCROFT, N.J. -- Communities recovering from Hurricane Sandy are getting some extra help with their recovery projects from students at colleges and universities throughout New Jersey.
Graduate and undergraduate students from Richard Stockton State College, Rowan University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Monmouth University and Rutgers University are volunteering with projects that include grant writing, landscaping, dune maintenance and debris cleanup.
On Thursday and Friday, April 3 and 4, students from NJIT in Newark visited Highlands and Sea Bright to help these two hard-hit towns take a few more steps forward on the long road to recovery.
Their presence in Highlands and Sea Bright came about as a result of recovery initiatives being undertaken by the FEMA Federal Disaster Recovery Coordination Group. FDRC is working with the state Office of Emergency Management, the League of Municipalities, two nonprofit organizations: Sustainable Jersey and New Jersey Future to match college volunteers with the recovery needs of some of the state’s hardest hit communities.
In southern New Jersey, the communities of Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor had a lot of projects on the drawing board but lacked the manpower to move forward with their plans.
“They were very understaffed and swamped,” said FDRC University Coordinator Mark Strohoefer. “We contacted Stockton College and they were able to immediately place a graduate student in Tuckerton to assist with grant-writing. We were later able to place business school students who assisted with economic development, marketing and branding plans. We were then able to include Little Egg Harbor in some of those areas.”
Unlike many volunteer projects, Strohoefer noted, this effort is aimed at providing “targeted assistance that is one hundred percent useful and beneficial to the towns.”
One example he cited is a team of students from Rowan University’s engineering school, who volunteered their skills in hard-hit Cumberland County. “They’re working on wastewater management and a potable water project.”
Students from NJIT will be working on developing a plan for Highlands to address a sloping issue on the hillsides, assist with a direct piping plan for storm water runoff from high-lying Route 36 and help to educate the public about the ongoing efforts to mitigate flood risks in Highlands.
At Monmouth University in West Long Branch, FDRC is partnering with classes from the Urban Coast Institute, Dept. of Criminal Justice, Rapid Response Institute and the Polling Institute on a number of recovery initiatives.
“We’ve just sent them about three projects from Sea Bright and Highlands to see if they would like to engage on them,” Strohoefer said.
Rutgers University School of Landscape Architecture is already engaged with Sea Bright as the seaside community contemplates landscape enhancements at three gateways to town: from the Oceanic Bridge in Rumson, Monmouth Beach to the south and from the Azzolina Bridge in Highlands to North Sea Bright.
“What we would like to get done is to look at all the public space in town and essentially develop a master plan,” said Frank Lawrence, volunteer coordinator for the Borough of Sea Bright.
“If you have a plan in place, it allows us to talk to grant-funders like America the Beautiful. If you have a plan with a vision, it makes it more convincing to go to a landscaper and say, ‘Give me a price.’’’
The community is also appreciative of the work done recently by students from NJIT, who cleaned public sidewalks and picked up sand and debris that has accumulated during the harsh winter. The students filled two dumpsters with trash collected in the downtown area, leaving sidewalks freshly swept.
“It makes the town look a little nicer and it makes people feel better,” Lawrence said. “It’s the type of thing that’s hard to get done in a small town. In the aftermath of a disaster like Sandy, public works departments are already stretched very thin and marshalling enough manpower to get things done can be a difficult challenge.
“You don’t recover from an event this large that quickly,” Lawrence said. “It takes a lot of time. It’s never quite as fast as you would like.
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