Small town residents often dream of seeing the “big city” and all of the lights, people, and sound typically associated with it — but few have probably thought about going to see the city devastated by a natural disaster.
Katie Hansen, a finance manager for the non-profit organization Save the Children and a former resident of Hazard, traveled to New York last month to help those struggling after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast on Oct. 29, destroying the homes and lives of those throughout the Northeast.
“Never in my life have I seen anything like that,” Hansen said.
Hansen began working in February of this year for Save the Children, and was able to volunteer her efforts in November to help the victims through the organization.
According to their website, Save the Children is there “when disaster strikes around the world … to save lives with food, medical care and education and remains to help communities rebuild through long-term recovery programs.”
“We were trying to help people, not rebuild, but find other locations,” Hansen said.
Hansen said a Head Start preschool in Staten Island had been completely demolished, but in one weekend she and other volunteers were able to set up a new preschool in an abandoned building.
“We got things donated, corporations would donate money to organizations like Save the Children, and we would buy supplies,” Hansen explained. “We mostly focused on preschools, because the schools that are in the state are public schools, so they’ll get federal funding. We’re still a big part in that community to this day.”
One thing from her experience that has stuck with her the most is the reaction of the teachers in preschools where she helped.
“They were so happy,” Hansen said. “They were crying and so glad that they could go back to work and the kids could have a place to go.”
Hansen and other volunteers from Save the Children also worked directly in shelters where victims and families were staying and helped set up child-friendly spaces.
“We were just giving the children an area to be kids,” she said.
Hansen added that although she had seen some of the coverage of the devastation on television, nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she volunteered. She saw many homes with water damage exceeding 5 feet high that was so extensive everything on the ground floor of many buildings had to be replaced completely.
“Just being from around Hazard and growing up here, I’ve never seen anything that damaged because I’ve never been in real huge flooding or a tornado or anything like that,” Hansen said. “I mean, they got hit with the hurricane and then from that hurricane came huge flood waters.”
Hansen graduated from Western Kentucky University in December 2011 and said she had always been interested in non-profit work and helping others; this opportunity to aid in relief for the Sandy victims was something she had always wanted to be a part of.
“A lot of people want to go out into the corporate world right after they graduate college. It’s really attractive to people because of the money you make, but you’re not doing anything for the community,” Hansen said. “This was just a way to give back. I mean, I know I’m getting paid for what I do, but it still makes you feel good at the end of the day that you’re working to help children.”