Recovery effort a fortunate detour
Josh DeBartolo and his fiancee Alison Bryant sit on a picnic table on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 in Schoharie, N.Y. The couple are getting married on Oct. 11 and moving to Peru to work for a center for malnourished children. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union)
By Brian Fitzgerald
September 30, 2013
It was supposed to be a weekend trip home for his little brother’s wedding.
Josh DeBartolo was to be Colorado-bound after the Aug. 27, 2011 ceremony, ready to start a new job with an economic development company after working oversees for nearly a year. All his belonging had just been moved into a storage unit in Denver.
Less than 24 hours after the wedding, Tropical Storm Irene swept across the Schoharie Valley and ruined his parents’ Middleburgh home and thousands of others. DeBartolo stayed to help.
Two years later, DeBartolo, 27, is still here, finishing his unanticipated stint as director of the one of the county’s main recovery arms. He’ll leave town with a wife of his own, too, his high school girlfriend with whom he only reconnected when Irene brought her back to the valley after the storm washed through her parents’ house.
“It’s all certainly been pretty unexpected,” DeBartolo said. “Now is just the right time to move on.”
This past weekend was DeBartolo’s last with Schoharie Recovery Inc. Since Irene, the organization has helped more than 1,110 of the roughly 1,950 homes damaged in the area. Most of the work that is left will take years to finish. Some homeowners are still wrangling with insurance companies. Others who had their houses destroyed are still slowly moving down the long road to rebuilding.
DeBartolo and his fiance, Alison Bryant, will be married on Oct. 11 and then will travel to Peru to work with malnourished children. The couple then plan to come home for the holiday season before moving out to Colorado to get DeBartolo’s stuff, which has been sitting in storage for more than two years. They’ll also see if they can lend a hand to people there who were devastated by recent floods that tore through the Fort Collins area.
DeBartolo, a 2008 Union College graduate who worked as a bond analyst for Goldman Sachs for three years after college, started his post-Irene recovery efforts just after his brother was married.
About 150 people were to attend the ceremony, but only 90 showed up because of the looming storm. The wedding reception hall briefly turned into a shelter.
A nearby church in Gallupville had its basement washed out and lost all its food. DeBartolo and his family took the leftover wedding fare there, where washed-out residents gathered for relief. People were thankful, but perplexed.
“It was our wedding food, so people were like, ‘Chocolate-covered strawberries at a shelter?’ ” DeBartolo recalled.
The Schoharie Valley had never seen flood damage like what was inflicted by Irene. In 2005, DeBartolo had volunteered in post-Katrina New Orleans.
“People kept looking to me for what the next step should be,” DeBartolo said.
DeBartolo slowly became one of the most visible faces of the recovery effort, first as a point man for coordinating volunteers while going out to battered homes daily, shoveling out mud and tearing away moldy floorboards. He helped coordinate with contractors and matched homes to what type of aid they needed.
To date, Schoharie Inc. has brought in 35,000 volunteers, more than the population of the county.
DeBartolo would keep tabs on Bryant’s parents’ home. When she came home, she and DeBartolo started talking. “One thing led to another,” he said.
The couple met in eighth grade, but split when Bryant moved west for college.
They’ll be married at a friend’s house and then leave for Peru. They’re not sure what they’ll do after they clear out DeBartolo’s storage unit in Colorado, but they want to keep working as humanitarians.
“We’ll see where it takes us,” DeBartolo said.
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