Many of the hundreds of students who volunteered assistance for Hurricane Sandy victims have spoken of their personal, life-altering experiences in service of those upended by the disaster.
Mary Beth Melendez of the College of Staten Island and Patricia Persaud of New York City College of Technology were among those who rushed to the aid of their neighbors and gained a new appreciation for the blessings in their own lives.
Hours after the storm, Melendez, a graduate student, went into action, setting up a food distribution center in Staten Island. The legally blind single mother of three had her Seeing Eye dog, Trixie, and a group of classmates to lead her to the disaster area.
The center she set up on the street soon became a command post for the National Guard and others who began donating food.
“Maybe I’m blessed because I’m blind and can’t see the broken houses,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who did a segment on her. “But I can see the broken hearts.” Melendez didn’t let her lack of sight stop her. Volunteering, she said, was “the human thing to do.”
A student in the master’s in clinical mental health program, where she has maintained a 3.8 GPA, Melendez is exploring doctoral programs.
Persaud, a senior, was like a whirlwind, helping some of the hardest-hit communities in the city. She worked on the emergency reconstruction of Bailey Pond Park in Queens and the cleanup of Far Rockaway, canvassed Red Hook residents and staffed the Red Cross emergency evacuation center at John Jay.
Surrounded by the storm’s misery and wading in water, Persaud said she realized how fortunate she is. “It made me gracious, and I wanted to come back the next day.”
A Queens resident, Persaud, who is majoring in advertising and communications, has made it her job and duty to help others on and off campus. In addition to her Sandy work, she helped organize a NYPIRG clothing drive and donated her hair to Beautiful Lengths so it could be made into wigs for children who have cancer.
Persaud and Melendez were honored recently at the 42nd Annual Conference of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators in Albany.
At a luncheon sponsored by the University, Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson commended them for “really stepping up to give back to their community in need.”
The luncheon also also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Caucus CUNY Scholars Program, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and Commissioner of NYS Homes and Community Renewal Darryl Towns also received CUNY awards for helping start the internship program.
(See video http://youtu.be/K11ys41bmwI.).