This is what a union is

Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

 Pequannock Twp. EA
The Pequannock Township Education Association sent donations to Ocean County schools through the NJEA Back to School Effort. Pictured here are PTEA President Lee Ann Brensinger (l) and Vice President Ann Marie Finnen.

Probably not many of us saw it coming.  At least not as it turned out.

Sure, we watched the weather forecasts.  We heard terms like “historic,” “freak,” and “frankenstorm” applied to Hurricane Sandy as it gathered over the Atlantic and began to make its way north.  Most of us took it seriously, and prepared as best we could for the anticipated effects of a huge storm.  We expected downed trees, power outages and even flooding.

But when the rain finally stopped, the tide receded and more stories and images began to emerge from the most devastated areas it was hard not to be shocked by the magnitude of the damage.  Familiar landmarks destroyed.  Entire communities buried in silt and sand.  Countless New Jersey families displaced, some with no homes to return to even after the storm had passed.

It didn’t take long for good people to spring into action, volunteering time, money and supplies to assist the hardest hit. It’s a natural instinct to help out in times like this, and NJEA wasted little time in creating the NJEA Hurricane Sandy Back to School Fund to help our members rebuild their professional lives.

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But even as we worked to create the fund, calls were coming in from members across the state, asking what they could do to help.  Others didn’t even bother to call – they just went to work, helping neighbors, colleagues and strangers.

A scene this weekend in Ocean County was inspiring, but not surprising.  A number of schools there suffered significant damage, including five elementary schools that are unlikely to reopen any time soon.  Students and staff in those schools are being relocated to other schools, local churches, and anywhere there is room to set up a classroom and start learning.  But they are starting from scratch, without even the basic necessities to make it through a school day. 

So this weekend, more than 50 NJEA members and staff gathered in Toms River to assemble backpacks for students and books and classroom supplies for teachers at the five schools.  Some of the supplies were purchased from the Back to School Fund, but others were purchased by individual NJEA members and local affiliates on their own.  And no one resented giving up a beautiful autumn Sunday to help colleagues and their students.

Because that’s what a union is.  It’s people who stand together when times are tough … people who lend a hand to a colleague because it’s the right thing to do … people who understand that we are strongest when we stand in solidarity.

This is a long-term commitment.  Schools will be rebuilding and reopening for months, if not longer.  NJEA members in many affected districts will need help and support for a long time to come.  But they can take this to the bank: their union sisters and brothers stand with them. 

Together, we will rebuild.

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