After Media Attention Fades, Communities Remain

The capacity of communities to respond forcefully and compassionately to adversity and tragedy has been a major theme in the last few months. In a recent piece for the Columbia Spectator, Frances Medina of the Red Hook Initiaive (RHI) eloquently discusses this. RHI is normally the site of programs like afterschool tutoring, mentoring and health education directed at youth living in Red Hook, Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City.

RHI sits just across the street from one of the city's largest public housing projects. The organization was somehow spared the widepsread flooding and power outages that Hurricane Sandy brough to the neighborhood in October. As with elsewhere in the region, homes and businesses were destroyed, and thousands of Red Hook residents were without heat, water, or electricity for about 3 weeks.

What was amazing, and continues to astound, is RHI's sense of the overall immediate and long-term needs of the community. Medina writes:

On Oct. 30, when the Red Hook Initiative opened our doors to meet the needs of hurricane victims, the first few weeks were focused on providing food, warmth, cellphone charging, computer access, medical care, and legal support. As the days without power, heat, or running water grew longer, the need for counseling, emotional support, and more intensive case management started to match the need for basic food and supplies...By week three, heat, electricity, and running water returned to Red Hook, but the demands for social work services, case counseling, and community-wide recovery efforts have remained high.  

What Medina captures is that when any community suffers, the scars and need are long-term.

The news cycle is overwhelmingly focused on the present tense. There is always a new attention-grabbing event happening. By and large our eyes end up being drawn elsewhere, and we move on.

With the preliminary hearing for accused Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes underway, stories of the theatre massacre are again crowding the news. As the Colorado survivors' stories and the pain of families appear in the headlines, it is hard to imagine that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings took place just three weeks ago.

Writing of Hurricane Sandy and Red Hook, Brooklyn, Frances Medina reminds us that after the media attention fades, the need for support remains.  

We encourage individuals to remember that the population that we cater to is here year-round. While Sandy relief efforts continue, our youth and community programming that target residents of the Red Hook houses will be shaped by the experiences faced as a result of Hurricane Sandy. 

This is an important idea that is worth looking at again. The youth of Red Hook will be shaped by the experience of Sandy, and so will the future programs of RHI. 

In the case of Red Hook, the ongoing needs in a post-Sandy world include social work and case management services for hurricane victims, support for job seekers, job readiness opportunities for young adults, and the rebuilding of the area's businesses and the local economy.

The need for healing and recovery in Aurora and Newtown remain as well.

Outside the media spotlight, adversity and tragedy have pervasively private lives among the individuals who have experienced them firsthand. After the shock subsides, the grieving process presses on. In the best cases, we feel connected to our communities as living, breathing places where neighbors do their best to help each other survive day to day.