After the lights went out post-Sandy, there was a bright spot in Port Washington: the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management Hurricane Recovery Center. It was a community effort, largely led by Port Washington resident Rob Seiden.
Patch caught up with Seiden, who is one of the people who made a difference in Port Washington in 2012.
Patch: Once Sandy hit, you were involved in first the shelter at Schreiber and then transformed it into a community center. You had mentioned that both Peter Forman and people at the County asked you play this lead role. What was your first reaction?
Rob Seiden: Honestly, I didn’t hesitate. I welcome huge challenges like this. My instinct and nature is to kick in to gear in a crisis and have always liked helping people. I have managed large emergency preparedness projects over the past with my business and have chaired the school district's emergency preparedness committee for five years. With this and my familiarity with the school district and many organizations and people in Port, I felt it was something we could effectively make happen. This is a town filled with amazing people who are doers not complainers. were the ones that I made immediate contact with and they [were] with me side by side every day and night….There are no more compassionate, caring, devoted, tireless and just plain decent human beings that I have had the pleasure and honor of working with. They gave up time from their families and other commitments. They left their spouses and kids home. They left their spoiling food in fridges that lacked electricity. They drove around on fumes and couldn’t get the chance to wait on the four-hour gas lines. They were the true nerve center of this difficult operation and the success of this is in large part due to their hard work and sacrifice. Since that first day, we [did] everything needed to make life a little easier for our fellow residents coping with this disaster. From making coffee, carrying boxes, running cables, calling local restaurants, listening to people's personal stories, arranging entertainment, heating up food or just giving a smile to a lonely and scared-looking visitor, the team at the Relief Center has been the best I have ever seen.
Patch: How did your own family coped with the storm and lack of power?
RS: Gail and I have been through a lot in our lives, and so when crisis occurs we unfortunately have experience that prompts us. This tragedy is bad, but things could always be worse. Make no mistake, the lack of heat and electric [were] very trying, stressful and frustrating on us, as it has on many people, but we [made] the best of it. Being around other caring, warm and dedicated volunteers and seeing the appreciation of our fellow residents when we work together to help each other through this is definitely easing the pain.
Patch: How did you come up with all of the activities at the recovery center – from exercise classes to Giants game viewing to election results viewing, and everything in between?
RS: We [asked] the visitors what they would like that could help them feel a little more comfortable, a little more human. Also, many volunteers come up with ideas like Zumba class, belly dancing class, science projects, movies, crafts, reading area, etc., and the next thing you know someone agrees to make it happen. It was a great way to lift people's spirits and distract them from their predicament. The Landmark on Main Street staff, and before that the School District staff, [were] extremely accommodating and…helped us implement the activities in a seamless fashion.
Patch: What was the most surprising, or most touching experience you've had at the recovery center?
RS: There have been so many touching and poignant moments. There are two things from this experience that stand out. We have served approximately 6,000 residents of all ages, socio-economic strata, races and ethnicities … under extremely onerous conditions. Yet, there [were] zero incidents. People have been respectful, appreciative and considerate. The many smiles of appreciation, sighs of relief and nods of approval have been great to see.
Secondly, the operation at the Relief Center was a true team effort. Peter Forman's daily North Shore Alerts were very helpful and informative to the community and his trust in all of us was appreciated. The degree of dedication of the volunteers is truly astounding. Working every day for 16 plus hours and without any tangible benefit while their own lives, families, careers and health were on hold, is never easy. Working alongside selfless people like Kevin Ives, Paul May, Lisa Donatelli, Jon Fields, Pack Leader Paul Ferguson and the local Boy Scouts Venture Crew 557, Anne Sacks, Stephanie Roth, Vickie and Tom Bensen, Myles and Lisa Nachamie, Brittany Nachamie, Rob and Shari Shedrofsky, Ronnie Kurka, Debbie Mishan and so many others during this crisis has been a true honor and something I will never forget. I also appreciated the genuine consistent efforts of our local leaders such as [PWM OEM] Commissioner Peter Forman, Councilwoman Dina DeGiorgio, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, Congressman Stephen Israel, Dr. Geoffrey Gordon, Karen Sloan, Dave Franklin, Dr. Kathy Mooney, Pastor Stuart, Sharon Maier-Kennelly and many others.
Patch: You seem to have a calling for public service - your nine years on the school board, five years on Manorhaven Senior Center Board, co-chair of the school district’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, heading up Port Washington's Legislative Task Force. Was this something instilled in you growing up?
RS: I have been volunteering since I was very young. I recall my dad directing traffic in the dark streets with a flashlight as a volunteer in Brooklyn during a blackout in the 1970s. I volunteered in various organizations throughout my life including with NY Youth at Risk for many years. It brings me great pleasure and is part of who I am. It helps that my wife is the most tireless and effective volunteer I have ever seen and does circles around me.
Patch: Finally, both you and your wife Gail, who's also been very active in this effort, must have been exhausted! How did you keep going?
RS: We are both very energetic people and feel compelled to do stuff like this. That said, we were both spent and running on adrenalin and caffeine. We also care deeply about our community and that motivates us. We receive great satisfaction from what we do. Our twin boys were at the Relief Center every night helping us. My son Aidan helped with overseeing kids activities and my son Noah helped carry things and make signs. I'm proud of them and hope they continue in this tradition. Nonetheless, we were definitely ready for a warm, quiet night at home -- without pizza and crowds.