In uncertain times, as well as those of great difficulty, our city has come through the darkness, strong and resilient, capable of bouncing back in the face of devastation. Superstorm Sandy dealt New York City a disastrous blow, but she also delivered us the reminder that our community, and how we look after one another, is truly the greatest asset to this already great city.
UCP of NYC plays an essential role in caring for New York Cities most vulnerable citizens. Regardless of the challenges we encounter, the people we serve can count on our being there for them no matter what storms we are forced to weather. While Superstorm Sandy temporarily closed the doors of our children’s education and adult day programs, our family support services division was fielding calls and dispatching help for assistance when and wherever possible. More critically, our residential staff worked around the clock in extraordinarily tough circumstances to provide care to the people who rely on UCP of NYC for housing.
In Manhattan, nearly 50 individuals who live in UCP of NYC residences were evacuated and relocated after losing power. For this group of people–which includes children and adults with profound physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities–everyday life is already full of challenges without introducing new factors like power-loss and temporary homelessness. Many of the residents who were forced to leave their homes, faced harrowing evacuations that saw them carried down pitch-black hallways and stairwells to be transported from one end of Manhattan to the other on traffic-clogged roads lacking the most basic function of street lights. UCP of NYC staff were there to calm residents who were understandably disoriented, scared, and in greater need of comforting than usual.
During the week of power outage in Manhattan, approximately 40 displaced residents took shelter in UCP of NYC’s West Harlem day program center. Instead of sleeping at home in their own accessible beds, they slept in cots with blankets bought and acquired by staff and volunteers. Instead of using electric, motorized wheelchairs, which bring many a measure of independence, they used collapsible wheelchairs, requiring those without the upper arm strength to ask for help getting around. For individuals who required bedside care and special feeding, dependence levels were ratcheted up a notch from an already high starting point. All this on top of the challenges these men, woman and children face every day.
Day in and day out of every calendar year, UCP of NYC supports the city’s least mobile and most vulnerable population. Many individuals with disabilities use “power” wheelchairs to get around. When the power is out, these electric wheelchairs can’t be charged. Those with significant mobility issues require special equipment to lift and move them to perform everyday functions like transferring into a chair or bed, or even taking a shower. When evacuations are made, these lifts are often necessarily left behind. The range of individuals UCP of NYC serves includes those with multiple medical and developmental issues, complex medication regimens, and special diets. Continuity of care and attention to the special needs of the people we serve is essential.
Mariette McBride, Assistant Executive Director of Adult Services at UCP of NYC remarked upon the exceptional effort made by staff during the crisis. “The dedication and commitment of our staff is beyond impressive,” Says McBride “Throughout the entire crisis they didn’t lose momentum or energy. Their dedication allowed us to provide continuity of care to the people we serve despite the flooding, power outages, and evacuations.”
UCP of NYC’s staff are trained for a wide variety of emergency scenarios, but the strength and poise those staff bring to the job is what makes them such special heroes. In addition to deftly managing the evacuations, the staff–a number of whom lost or sustained damage to their own homes–went above and beyond to ensure exceptional care for the people UCP of NYC supports.
Says Linda Laul, UCP of NYC Associate Executive Director, “Our staff are always there for the individuals we serve. Snow storms, nor'easters, and hurricanes highlight the unfaltering commitment they have.”
At the temporary shelter set up at UCP of NYC’s 154th Street location, staff alleviated displaced residents’ fears, made them comfortable, and kept them engaged with activities, many improvised, like mani-pedis, bingo, arts and crafts, and reading and writing groups. In doing so, they were able to lift spirits and create moments of sincere fun, despite the mess Sandy left in her wake. Jeffrey Gale, a day program participant at UCP of NYC’s 154th center who lives nearby stopped in to spend time with staff and displaced residents throughout their stay. “UCP did a good job. Everybody was there together, helping one another out.” Says Gale, “I missed my friends, but I played bingo and cards and it made me happy.”
Laul noted that the outcomes of the event were due to the exceptional teamwork of staff. “Titles did not matter: day, residential, building services and administrative staff worked side by side to create a fun environment for our individuals.” Says, Laul “The spirit of cooperation was apparent throughout every site I visited.”
And just like everyone else, Jeffrey Gale was very happy when folks returned home safe and day services at the center resumed, “It’s nice that everything is normal again, I’m glad to back with my friends.”
At UCP of NYC, we are eternally committed to supporting the people we serve no matter what challenges we face. Superstorm Sandy impacted our normal operations, but didn’t prevent us from keeping our promise. Helping people in their most vulnerable moments is what we do and it is who we are. We are proud to be a trusted Partner, Provider, and Employer of Choice, especially when our New York City community needs us the most.