Scoville Hall in Amagansett offered a delightful dose of Southern charm as the East End community gathered on Friday, October 27 for a “Hurricane Hoedown” hosted by Mandala Yoga Center for Healing Arts. Proceeds from the well-attended event supported Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization composed of military veterans and qualified civilians, and Give More Hugs, who is providing food, hygiene items, and other supplies to those impacted by Hurricane Maria.
Back in mid-September, East End Cares member Maureen Rutkowski joined Team Rubicon in Texas for eight days.
“I want to say it was amazing but it’s hard to say that because of what we were doing. It was heart wrenching for the families, but it was amazing to be able to help the families,” she told us about the experience. “These are people that lost everything in the floods, so to be able to go in and at least give them a little bit of help by cleaning out their homes and give them a start to help rebuild their lives really was a remarkable experience.”
Rutkowski initially learned about the organization back when New York was recovering from Hurricane Sandy. “I remembered when we did Sandy relief through East End Cares, one of the most organized, together organizations that we met in the Rockaways was Team Rubicon,” Rutkowski said. “So when the storm hit, I said I’ve got time and I want to physically help. Melissa Berman actually reminded me of Team Rubicon and I got right on and filled out the paperwork and the process.”
For Rutkowski, the experience was life changing. “Across the board, just going with Team Rubicon was wonderful. They’re a great group,” Rutkowski noted. “When you offer to deploy and help them and you pass their background checks and take their classes, they will cover your flights, they will get you to and from where you need to be – other than to the airport, you have to get yourself to the airport – but they’ll even reimburse miles to the airport.”
Team Rubicon has teams in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Dominica. “I went into Beaumont, Texas, one of the hardest hit areas. When you see the photos of the guys in the rubber rafts going in and pulling people out of houses, that happened in the Beaumont area,” Rutkowski noted. “We would actually pass houses that had the x’s to say that it was checked on the second levels of homes, which makes you realize that they had to come by in boats to do that, so these places were heavily flooded.”
The outpouring of Southern hospitality while she was there was heartwarming. “When I moved into Beaumont, we stayed in a Baptist church and they put us up in their teenager wing. We had 70 people there, but they had room for another 300,” she explained. “Between the Red Cross, that Baptist church, and the Southern Baptist, an organization that has a relief arm, they fed us, they provided us with shower trailers, a place to sleep, they did our laundry for us. They took care of us because they knew you have to take care of the volunteers so they can go out and do the grunt work. A lot of the southern Baptists we met were older and said we’ve been where you are and we know that you need a good night’s sleep and that you need to be clean, so we’ll help you do this because we can’t do the cleaning out anymore.”
Although the daily doings were daunting, she truly enjoyed her time spent with the organization. “It was grueling work – we went into houses and ripped from ceilings down in many places and emptied out houses. One house was this beautiful house that was recently redone. It was full of antiques and beautiful furniture – things that I would want in my house – and we were just throwing them to the curb,” Rutkowski said. “Just heartbreaking, you’d go from tears one minute to smiles for a task accomplished the next. It was mentally and physically tough, but also mentally and physically great; you saw all sides of it.”
After just eight days with the team, Rutkowski says she left with a new group of lifelong friends. “Team Rubicon since Harvey hit has grown by leaps and bounds. I think they have over 60,000 people now and a lot of people that are jumping at the bit to get to these places,” she noted. “I spent a week in a room, sleeping in cots with veterans from all different services and volunteers, and after a couple of days we were family. It’s a pretty great group of people.”
This was her first time volunteering for Team Rubicon and she already has plans to deploy with the organization again in November. “What we’ve learned is you don’t just volunteer once. They call it the tribe (The TR); you realize it’s not a onetime thing. If I don’t go on Halloween, I’m actually going up to Schenectady to work on a veteran’s home. They do things all over for veterans,” she shared. “They’re not just going into these communities and helping clean up these communities and helping people get their lives started again, they’re also giving a lot of veterans a new lease on life, veterans that come out of the service and they don’t know what to do – maybe they’re floundering, maybe they’re not, but they join up with Team Rubicon and find so many likeminded people and they get to jump in on a project again. Countless times I see so many different interviews where veterans are saying: ‘This team gave me a new lease on life.’ So it’s twofold what they do.”
“We live in such a community where that they so care for their own people and others and are willing to step up and help,” Rutkowski added. “The East End community, they really do, there’s no questions asked. We have a lot of people in the community that has family in these affected places so people want to be able to help. It’s great to have these different organizations and activities so people can help.”
Charity Joy Robinson, who is working with Give More Hugs, has plans to volunteer in Dominica in November. “I have specific goals that I’m working on. I’m working with families that are friends of mine and getting them supplies, as well as getting solar chargers for a lot of the communities,” she explained. “With Give More Hugs, they’re going to be sending a lot of stuff for the schools.”
Her first visit will last two weeks, but in December, she plans to lend a helping hand in the Caribbean for two months. “I’m going to assess it for that first period and see where I’m needed most and go back in December and see if I can do more,” she explained. “All the money donated will go straight to getting resources for the people to rebuild, to get solar stuff down there as soon as possible and getting the schools set up as much as possible. 90 percent off the roofs in Dominica were torn off of houses, no one has electricity and running water is here and there – it’s a hydroelectric island, so everything runs off their water system and they had to shut it down and pretty much rebuild the whole system.”
Joy Robinson lived in Dominica for two years and has visited several times over the past eight years. She says the island has “just really kind people that are really strong and resistant.”
“All the money that I’ve campaigned for, I bought supplies with and they’re on their way down there,” she noted. “I’m shipping to friends right now, who lost everything, I sent a 55 gallon barrel and filled it with whatever they asked for. I have a friend who lost two kids and their house and everything in it and they specifically requested certain things to help rebuild, so we bought all that stuff on Amazon and she’s bringing it down.”
In addition to bringing resources, Joy Robinson – who is a yoga teacher at Mandala – will be leading yoga and mediation sessions. “Find it in your heart to support people that need it,” she asked. “My main mission going down there is just bringing hope and joy because that’s what I did while I lived there. I’ve already been asked to teach yoga there and do some trauma work with kids especially, but also any adults who want to – sitting mediation to get their minds off of all the crazy that’s going on around them and keep their focus on something that’s brighter and help keep the positivity.”
For more information about Team Rubicon, visit teamrubiconusa.org and for more information about, visit Give More Hugs www.givemorehugs.org.