Volunteers plant trees, remove debris in Breezy Point

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Syl Kacapyr
4-H teens
Gretchen Ferenz
4-H teens helped out in Cornell’s Hurricane Sandy relief service effort by hauling and removing debris.

As part of the second Cornell Hurricane Sandy relief effort, 40 New York City Cornellians – including alumni, staff and 4-H youth – braved the wind and cold Nov. 9 to plant trees and remove debris in Breezy Point, Queens, N.Y., where residents are still recovering from the impact of last year’s devastating hurricane.

After Hurricane Sandy, much of the neighborhood’s vegetation was damaged by the storm’s salt inundation, said Gretchen Ferenz, senior extension associate with Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC (CUCE-NYC), who coordinated the event and has been living in Breezy Point for six years. Among the many ecosystem services that trees provide in urban areas, one of the most critical for coastal areas is the ability to absorb and store water, which reduces storm runoff and lessens the possibility of flooding, she said.

“Many here are still struggling with the physical work of rebuilding their homes, and some residents – including many older adults – may not be able to plant trees themselves,” she said.

Working with Tory Ragsdale, MBA ’10, and Cassandra Aquart ’00, Ferenz recruited NYC Cornellians to offer planting assistance when residents received trees Nov. 9. The New York Restoration Project donated 150 trees as part of New York City’s MillionTreesNYC initiative, and plans to donate another 150 trees next spring. A pending application requests an additional 500 trees and shrubs for common areas such as upland beaches, ball fields and monuments in Breezy Point, Ferenz said.

Before the planting, Ferenz provided a brief training demonstration of proper planting techniques, including how to inspect the root ball for circling roots. Cornellians were then paired up and fanned out across the neighborhood to plant the small trees.

“It's been a gratifying experience to realize the help and participation of all those in the community in my time of distress,” said tree recipient Joseph Seidel.

Meanwhile, a team of NYC 4-H youth joined Habitat for Humanity of Westchester County to haul and remove debris from a fire safety lane.

“Taking part in disaster recovery efforts provides me with an opportunity to give back to the community, and apply skills that are desperately needed in places like Breezy Point,” Ragsdale said. “This was a great way for Cornellians to come out, work together and make a positive difference.”

Tebbie Cliff, a coordinator in CUCE-NYC’s nutrition and health program, was among several extension staff members who also helped out. “The day was special, meeting new Cornell folks as well as those in the Breezy Point community,” she said.

Don Sussman ’76, president of Stop and Shop, N.Y. metro district, and Stop and Shop of Arverne, Queens, donated lunches for the event. The event was coordinated by CUCE-NYC, Habitat for Humanity of Westchester County and Cornell’s Office of Alumni Affairs - Metro NY.

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