Josh DeBartolo at the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Irene: A Story for Blake
From Josh DeBartolo:
[This weekend] we commemorated the 5-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene and a few people have asked if I could share my speech from the event in which I told to my son Blake the story of the recovery effort for the first time. Other than ad-libs, my unedited speech from yesterday is below
Hello – Thank you all for coming to celebrate and remember the joys as well as sorrows we have endured as a community over the last five years since Hurricane Irene.
As I reflected back on my time working in the recovery effort, I thought about the lessons I learned. I thought about the people I met who impacted and inspired me. And I thought about the countless stories of overcoming obstacles when we all worked together. What we accomplished in Schoharie County has been beyond just rebuilding homes. Its laid a foundation of values we can embody as a community and use to teach our next generation of future leaders.
Speaking of future generations, I couldn’t have imaged that the guy running around with a crowbar and long scraggly hair 5 years ago would be standing here today with a much different title – that of father.
Everyday I try to determine how to best fulfill this new role and its certainly changed my perspective. First of all, has anyone else noticed how fast cars seem to be driving these days? Slow down! And everything is so sharp and dangerous!
As I struggle to navigate this new role, I do know one thing for certain. I know that I want my son and future generations in this county to learn from the stories of the resilient men and women who I have seen achieve unimaginable things in the face of hardship. I want him to live by these values.
So with that said, I would like to take this opportunity to tell my son Blake the story of the flood recovery for the first time.
Let me tell you a story my son… I think you’ll like it. Its filled with everyday heroes overcoming insurmountable odds. Its chalk full of rich characters I couldn’t make up if I tried. It’s a story of loss and hardships but maybe I’ll wait until you’re a little older to tell you about that part. It’s a story about ordinary people doing etra-ordinary things. And while you may be picturing knights in shining armor wielding swords and shields, let me replace a few of those images with hammers, and spatulas, and cold cups of water. Because these were the tools that rebuilt a community.
The first person I met working in the recovery effort was named Courage. In those first few days, Courage seemed to be everywhere. I’d run into him in homes and businesses and at the volunteer center. He knew that he had to be strong for his family and his neighbors but just below the surface he was scared. He didn’t know what to do but he knew that if he could just stand up that might just be enough. And it was. Because after he stood and she stood, everyone began to stand beside them.
The next person I met on my journey was Empathy. Now Blake, Empathy is someone very special to me and someone that I hope with all my soul that you become friends with. I watched Empathy volunteer with us one day. She wasn’t always the fastest and sometimes other volunteers couldn’t understand why she would just stop to talk with homeowners when there was real work to be done. But it was Empathy that hit the nail on the head that day. She broke down walls no crowbar could touch with her powerful tools of Listening and Understanding. To watch Empathy wield those tools was magic. When people connected through Empathy, the community set aside its differences and rebuilt together.
Now one of my favorite characters in this story is Dedication. Dedication showed up to the volunteer center day after day. She brought with her the consistency so many homeowners needed as they struggled to determine who to trust during those confusing times. She knocked on doors and made phone calls to homeowners to check on progress and continued needs. She wrote grants and fundraised. Dedication ran shelters providing displaced families a place to stay. She served Ziti at the Loaves and Fishes Café. She hung sheetrock and ran electric wire. Even though Dedication had other commitments, she gave her all to the recovery effort pouring in thousands of hours of assistance to the community.
Now Blake – I want to tell you about someone else I met in Schoharie County after the flood. His name was Quiet Leadership. Quiet Leadership is someone I will never forget because he had such a profound impact on me. Quiet Leadership lead by example. He didn’t seek praise for the work he did, he just knew it needed to be done. He spent countless hours behind the scenes making sure those on the front lines had everything they needed. He wasn’t in the spotlight taking a bow for what he had accomplished, and he counted success in little victories for home owners rather than notoriety for himself. He worked hand in hand with Empathy on many projects that united divisive voices into a common mission. Together with Courage, Quiet Leadership fought and won many battles across this county. But in one case, Quiet Leadership laid down the sword that was his pen and left us, always to aspire to be the example that he left behind.
While there are countless other characters in this story, the last person I want to introduce to you today was named Hope. I remember watching Hope make her way through the town in the days after the flood. She put signs in windows that said “We will rebuild” Hope would sit in the volunteer trailer and provide a smile and comfort when people came in at their lowest point. She was a shoulder to cry on and was a container for the vision of what was possible. She held beliefs for people and for the community until they were able to hold them on their own. She set up a card table for volunteers to sign in. She pulled out a grill and started cooking hot dogs so that families could have a warm meal. She set up a jar for donations in her office. Hope provided building materials for families in need. She jumped into waist high water to muck out a basement. She decided to rebuild not just for herself but for her neighbors and her community. And when Hope fanned those sparks she lit a fire that no flood could overpower.
Blake – What I want you to know is that when Courage, Empathy, Dedication, Quiet Leadership, and Hope all come together anything is possible. You could rebuild a community, feed thousands, or maybe even just change the world like we did together in Schoharie County.