Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

White House Honors Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change

The “hidden heroes” implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the needs of communities as they worked to rebuild after the disaster.

The White House recognized 17 “hidden heroes” who implemented innovative, collaborative solutions to meet the needs of communities as they worked to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. The Champions of Change were honored on Wednesday, April 24, for their contributions to the recovery efforts following the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of 2012. The Champions of Change program was created to recognize people “who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities,” according to the White House.

“As soon as a disaster hits, we see citizens come together to help those in need,” said Paulette Aniskoff, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Engagement, in a statement. “Time and again, we have seen the courage and heroism of first responders, organizations and ordinary people in providing relief, recovery and care, and these Hurricane Sandy champions of change are no exception.”

The Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change include:

Justin Auciello, Jersey Shore Hurricane News
Somerset, N.J.

Auciello is an urban planner and digital journalist. Understanding the power of social media during a crisis, he created Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a Facebook- and Twitter-based news platform, in advance of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Though Hurricane Irene did not inflict widespread damage in New Jersey, Superstorm Sandy caused catastrophic damage, especially in the state’s shore areas. The outlet was widely utilized by New Jersey residents for accurate news reports, crowdsourced information about food, water, gas and shelter, and deliveries of supplies and assistance to people in need. Most importantly, the platform was used by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to communicate with people requesting rescue from the storm surge, as 911 was overloaded.

Amanda “Mandy” Bickerstaff, UWSLoves
New York, N.Y.

Bickerstaff is a program director for Do Your Part, a nonprofit organization that supports disaster relief and long-term recovery. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, Mandy volunteered with the Red Cross and saw how important good food made with love was in times of disaster. She co-founded UWSLoves, which prepared more than 1,500 hot meals and more than 3,000 sandwiches for those in need on the Lower East Side, Rockaway, Coney Island and Red Hook. During this time, Mandy also compiled a cookbook of recipes and stories from the relief effort to support continued fundraising. She continues to work with relief organizations around the New York and New Jersey areas, coordinating fundraisers, large donations and volunteers.

Steve Birnbaum, FEMA Innovation Team
Arlington, Va.

As chair of the Global VSAT Forum’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Programs, and an inaugural member of the FEMA Innovation Team, Birnbaum deployed with the team into the areas most devastated by Superstorm Sandy. On the ground, Steve and the team rallied local community leaders, NGOs, government, volunteers and commercial technology providers to deploy temporary disaster networks in the Rockaways, Redhook and Staten Island. This just-in-time telecommunications then empowered communities to coordinate their own volunteers, aid and donations. Their accomplishments soon facilitated the spawning of new, grass-roots community outreach initiatives, such as a cadre of FEMA Corps volunteers who went door-to-door with newly networked tablet computers to register survivors for assistance at their doorstep. 

Debra Boudreaux, Tzu Chi Buddhist Disaster Relief
Arcadia, Calif.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun from Taiwan, founded the Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966. The foundation is an international humanitarian nonprofit organization that aspires to help the needy with love and inspire compassion in the wealthy. Tzu Chi responded to Hurricane Sandy in late 2012, rapidly providing material aid such as hot food, blankets and emergency financial assistance totaling almost $10 million. The organization served almost 60,000 people in more than 25 of the most severe disaster areas in New York and New Jersey. Most recently, Tzu Chi responded by providing emergency cash debit cards to those affected by the Waco fertilizer plant explosion, and by showing love and concern to the runners and their families at the Boston Marathon.

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