"I lived on 42nd street right by the beach. I came back and saw the waterline is up to here (my neck) and I’d lost most of my things, my clothes, everything. I also lost my job. I was working at my church in daycare as an assistant teacher and the downstairs area and everything got destroyed. For six months I was on unemployment and had to move in with my mom, who lives by the bay and didn’t get hit as bad, and I’m still there now. I got money from FEMA but it wasn’t much.
It was really a growing experience for me. A lot of people think it’s a negative thing because they think of all the things they lost and all the things they can’t get back. Some people get depressed. I felt devastated. These were all my things, stuff that I can’t get back but then I reflected on it and said, “Well I’m still alive. I still have choices that I can make, decisions. I can make this into a positive situation, I don’t have to think negative.” So what I did was I kept trying to find work and get myself out there, and eventually I did a couple of jobs and then I eventually found Build It Back. I felt like, okay, I can help people who went through the same thing I went through, and I feel real good about it. I feel good that I can impact people.
A lot of people weren’t expecting Sandy to happen. After, a lot of people came together and helped people gut out their house, clean up, things like that. I think it maybe made people realize we have to stick together rather than be separate. Dealing with devastation like that is really hard. A lot of people had to allow other people outside their family in just to help them out. I think it really made people see each other in a different way. It’s like okay, that’s my neighbor, we’re cool and we can work together, we should work together. This has impacted all of us, not just one. We are one but it impacted each and every one of us in a different way so why not just help each other. Do what we can do, it won’t be the same like it was before Sandy but it can be better. We can change it, we can make it better, but we have to stick together.
Nobody really knows about us, we’re Far Rockaway, we’re like the peninsula. It’s like who cares about them, it’s just Rockaway. Nobody wants to come to Rockaway, forget Rockaway. But we matter in our way because we’re just like everybody else. We have our own communities, we deal with same thing they deal with so why shouldn’t’ we matter just like everyone else. Who’s to say we can’t impact each other. We matter, in our own way we matter, even if no one thinks we do.
I don’t think you should let the storm run you out. I try to stay positive about a lot of things and it’s really hard. But I’m just going to stay positive because good things come to those who wait and I’m waiting. ” -Leah Joyner, 22, Rockaway
Interview by Claudia Santino
See here for more from this series