Wake Forest Athletes Aid Storm-Ravaged New Jersey
Field hockey freshman Jess Newak organized the event through a Facebook campaign for Wake Forest students.
Field hockey freshman Jess Newak organized the event through a Facebook campaign for Wake Forest students.

March 20, 2013

By Currie McFayden, Wake Forest Athletic Communications (@WakeHockey)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - For many residents of the northeastern United States, the events of October 29, 2012, and the tragedies that unfolded as a result of Hurricane Sandy have created a new grim reality in their day-to-day lives.

In the state of New Jersey alone, at least 37 people lost their lives and nearly 350,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving countless numbers of the population in uninhabitable conditions immediately following the storm. Unfortunately, days slowly turned to weeks for many of these victims, and as the calendar turned to a new year a large number of these displaced families continued to rely upon shelters simply to survive.

While many Wake Forest students were enjoying the waning days of their winter break, a quartet of field hockey players and other Demon Deacon volunteers traveled to Moonachie, New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit areas in the entire country, on Jan. 5. Led by freshmen Jess Newak and Madi Julius, as well as New Jersey natives Jillian Anzalone and Krysta Wangerin, the group set out to repair a mobile home that had been left in ruins due to massive flooding from the storm.

"Madi and I talked about it on the way home for winter break, and we knew that we wanted to do something that would benefit the victims," Newak said of the idea's origins. "We didn't have a direct reason to go, but we wanted to do something that would mean a lot and we felt like it would be a great opportunity."

Anzalone and Wangerin painted an even more personal picture of the storm, as it affected areas very close to their homes.

 

 

"I had seen so many pictures, and I know it was hard for both of us to see those pictures while down here in North Carolina because we couldn't do anything," Anzalone said. "There were still so many places that needed help and even though we were a small group, we helped to make a difference for those victims."

The girls, alongside current track athlete Ryan Horgan, former athlete Scott McCullough and several other Wake Forest undergraduates, were tasked with reinsulating the underside of the mobile home. Despite the tough mission, Julius saw the work as a bonding opportunity for the group.

"It was hard work, but it was also a lot of fun," said Julius. "We got to know Ryan and Scott and a few of my hallmates were there too. It really gave us a chance to see one another in a different element."

As members of field hockey squad, the four are certainly no strangers to community service. The team has captured back-to-back CHAMPS Cup awards, which are given to the men's and women's teams that best represent the university in five categories, including volunteerism and academic achievement.

"Our volunteer work started a couple of years ago as a competition, but once we won our first CHAMPS Cup it became about pride," Anzalone said. "When people ask about it, I love being able to say that we have the most community service hours of any women's team on this campus. We're so close as a team that it is very easy to do things like this; it's become fun for us. It's another way to give back to the community and the people that always support us and want to see us do well. It's one small thing that we can give back to them as thanks for that."

Wangerin, who was recovering from an injury at the time of the Sandy project, referenced this importance to the community at large as well.

"It's incredibly rewarding," said Wangerin. "Since I was hurt I stood with the lady who owned the home while the others were cleaning up. I got to talk to her about her experience, and it was incredible to see her response just from knowing that there were people who cared about her."

"I think people often take for granted what we have, especially since we're so privileged here," she continued. "Knowing that someone was going to be able to live in a house thanks to something that we did was such a great feeling. We're to the point that we don't see what we do as work; we look at it as rewarding because of what we get to give back to the community."

That community clearly extends far beyond the gates of Wake Forest or the city limits of Winston-Salem. With members representing six states and four different countries, the field hockey team's "community" stretches around the globe.

"As athletes, we have the spotlight on us whether we like it or not," Julius said. "Everything that we do reflects Wake Forest, so anything extra that we can do to improve the name of the university is so helpful and rewarding. Wake has done such a great service for us, and I think it is important for us to give back to the school by representing it well in everything that we do."

There is no question that each of these four girls embodied the true ideals of Wake Forest's "Pro Humanitate" motto during their time in New Jersey. They were not there for their own personal reasons or due to any obligation; they reached out to the community out of nothing more than compassion for those who had lost everything.

"It was sad because many of them weren't young people," Anzalone said. "Often you think that people will be able to spring back from a tragedy like this, but they could not have done that on their own even if they wanted to. It just happened to them, there was nothing they could do about it. What we did that day helped them to get back on their feet."

"Getting to know those people, hearing their stories and seeing how they live had a huge impact on me," Wangerin added. "The struggle that they went through after the storm will always stay in the back of my mind."

Newak, Wangerin, Julius, Anzalone and the rest of the Demon Deacons who accompanied them made an impact in New Jersey, lifting up those who were not capable of doing so themselves in the true spirit of Wake Forest: "for the good of humanity."

 

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