I live alone in a little house just a few miles north of Trenton. Like so many others, as I watched the weather forecasts predicting that hurricane Sandy could veer toward New York and New Jersey and join up with a front moving in from the west, I reacted with a mix of fear, denial, and routine preparation.
The Presidential election was a week away. I gathered batteries, water, non-perishables and waited all the while obsessively checking Nate Silver’s predictions wanting to believe in an Obama victory but so worried about Karl Rove.
Around 2:00 p.m., my nephew Phill called from Seattle and made me promise to set up a “bunker” in my protected utility room just in case of a worst case scenario.
The winds had picked up by midday and my power disappeared at 5:30 just after watching Governor Christie freak out at the Mayor of Atlantic City for not obeying his evacuation orders. I missed the joining of hands between my Governor and President to help the Jersey shore, but I am proud of their coming together for the common good.
For several hours I faked a normal routine. trying to ignore the howling winds. Around 11:00 I thought I heard a huge jet pass close over my house and stuck my head outside. Instantly I knew that something momentous and awful was happening.
That jet sound turned out to be a wicked wind, thrashing and tossing large tree limbs around like tooth picks. Eerie lightning was flashing across a dense sky – I later learned I was seeing transformers blowing up all over Trenton. The deep, thick, putrid smell of ocean invading land filled my nostrils causing me to shudder.
I looked up and saw hundreds of Canadian geese their wings flapping around in the mayhem, pathetically trying to gain against the storm. The house began to sway; the windows rattled. I grabbed my cats and dove into my “bunker,” whispering thanks to nephew Phillip.
When I was 10 years old, my mother told me it was time to learn what she would ask of me in life. Her three asks were that I fight for people of all backgrounds and persuasions to have the same chances and choices for a good life; that I respect and honor nature as well as all creatures large and small; and that I be a good boy and grow up to be a good man.
As I lay there in Phil’s bunker curled up with my cats, I kept hearing her words. I cannot say that I was a good boy or have become a good man but I have tried. And obviously the horror outside had something to do with our utter lack of respect for the balance of nature.
But my own journey has been connected to her wish for equal opportunity and well-being for all people. The wind died around three in the morning and miraculously the storm had left me safe. But I knew without knowing that Sandy had devastated places and lives all around me.
My colleagues and I have had the great fortune to work with several communities in New Jersey –Camden and Union Counties and the City of Newark—around a vision that all families have the resources and support they need to successfully raise their children to become strong, happy and productive young adults.
Newark Mayor and now Senator-elect Cory Booker was the first public figure to embrace this vision of family success, and for seven years he and his team worked with community leaders, the philanthropic sector, public officials and private organizations and the residents of Newark to forge a brighter future.
Though times have been tough, the Newark community has been able to move forward in many ways. Among them has been the creation of a network of 15 Family Success Centers established to support families with resources and inspiration in a positive, friendly way: to act as catalysts for positive change in their neighborhoods.
Sandy hit Newark hard. At one point over 90% of neighborhoods were without power, and people were left in the dark without the basics – heat, light, electricity, food, water, warm clothes, and family supplies.
Mayor Booker, with his incomparable energy and focus, worked furiously with his team to support Newark residents. The infrastructure of emergency planning, preparation, and relationships came into play as the City rose to meet this awesome, unforeseen challenge.
The Family Success Center Network was created to provide an infrastructure of trust and connection with Newark families and support their success – so could they help in this worst of times?
As large-scale relief efforts got underway, the Mayor called on a trusted
senior adviser to mobilize an immediate response through the Family Success
Centers. In literally 6 days, an amazing plan was conceived and activated
resulting in the distribution of desperately needed basic goods to families
throughout the City.
Hundreds of families received food, medical and baby supplies, flashlights and batteries, and other basics. By the end of the week, through the same network, 1200 warm garments were distributed. Government leadership, philanthropic action and families trusting their neighborhood Family Success Centers together helped to ease the crisis.
New Jersey has become the leader in the family success movement, with Centers in every county. When Sandy struck, these Centers became an invaluable resource for hurting families. The Governor has since funded additional Centers in the more devastated communities in the state.
Several days later, Nate Silver’s forecast prevailed, and President Obama emerged victorious. If it is true that crisis breeds opportunity – 9/11, Sandy, and Katrina, and even the latest debt ceiling madness, we simply have a greater chance to survive and thrive by working together.
Discord and division are the seeds of failure. If we can find the will to come together, we have the skill and knowledge to confront and solve the frightening imbalances in the natural world and the unacceptable disparities in the realm of economic and social opportunity.
Let the Family Success Centers in Newark and New Jersey serve as examples of what can be done when we all work together as one. One Newark, one New Jersey, one America.
Although she has been gone awhile, I can see my mother nodding her assent.
Tom Blatner is President of Janus Solutions and co-founder of The Family Success Institute.