Far Rockaway is on the outskirts of Queens between Jamaica Bay and Long Island. Although considered part of New York City's five boroughs, it can feel disconnected from the rest of the city and it's seemingly infinite resources. It's known as a "red zone", but instead of standing by and watching this community struggle, our friend Heather McClanahan and her team are helping build bridges and bring hope. Below is the beginning of an awesome story that continues to unfold.
So to kick it off, tell us how this all happened? How did you end up in the Rockaways in the first place?
Well, there was a hurricane back in 2012 that flooded the Rockaway peninsula and people went to help. Me and some friends joined the efforts. I've been coming ever since and eventually decided to move here back in January.
So what has that looked like for you in the past few years? What did you start doing and how has it evolved?
The past few years have looked all sorts of ways…
What started as tons of mud, mold & filth type work ended up turning into making new friends. You just fall in love with people as you spend time with them. I can't think of a deeper or quicker way of getting to know someone than allowing them to cling to you during a crisis. And I learned through my experience here that there is nothing worse than pulling away once you think their situation is "fixed" or something. The emotional impact of a storm seems to cause the most damage of all and lasts much longer than the damage done to one’s home or belongings.
During the relief work I stumbled upon this part of Rockaway that felt a bit abandoned, only it’s full of people. It felt cut off from the city, from the rest of Rockaway. It was a place everyone would tell me not to go. In fact just yesterday I was walking down the street and a guy pulled his car over to ask me if I was lost! It’s called Far Rockaway and it’s where I spent most my time.
Me and a handful of my friends from the city just kept trying to share what we had with Far Rockaway. We tried to fill needs anywhere and anyway we could. Over time the smaller consistent things seem to have had the biggest impact. Focusing on the major problems was overwhelming and made us wonder wether we were making any impact at all. Not to say that larger efforts were worthless, I just found the simple, day-to-day stuff better for me.
All of this has now evolved from a good old “grassroots do-gooding” (as a local leader Mrs. Doe calls it) to being a non-profit my friend Meaghan and I just launched with the same theme in mind, bringing resource to Far Rockaway. We believe it’s what the community deserves.
What makes the place special? Why do you love it? Where do you see it headed?
What makes any place special are the people, but I think we’ve already established that. Far Rockaway is overlooked and that makes it special too. I'm just attached man, don't know how else to say it. I love my neighbors, they add so much to my life.
So rad. And now that the hurricane relief efforts have lured you in and allowed you to help a community in need, how do you plan to continue to make an impact in this community in the days to come?
Just by continuing to be a connection point for the Rockaways. We’ll eventually start doing our own programming as we see fit, but we believe more so in the power of getting behind these local leaders already doing good things. Our plan is to spotlight their endeavors and try to rally people to action, people who would have otherwise never known about Far Rockaway. In doing that, we hope to represent the community well. Using your voice can be a nerve-racking thing.
Right now we are desperately trying to get space for an after-school program before winter. Many kids involved are near and dear to our hearts. Down the road, we’re hoping to partner with a local community center that is trying to expand into the neighborhood where those kids live. The list goes on. Most of this stuff just takes money and new groups of people who feel the burden to care.
One exciting project of our own… a talented friend and fashion designer is starting a clothing brand/youth employment program with us! We’re pumped.
We just want Far Rockaway to thrive, and we’re willing to fight like hell to make it happen.
That's very cool and and we so admire what you're doing there. If folks wanted to get involved in your non-profit or even the day-to-day "do-gooding" stuff is there a way to do that?
We’re all about it! I think sometimes you look at a cause and it’s hard to know where to start…We say it starts with bringing what you do best to the table. There are so many ways to contribute. Whether you want to creatively campaign to raise money for these endeavors; bring your own expertise, trade or organization to the table; volunteer in Far Rock; or simply donate - just reach out to us! Anyone can play a part and we’re all so much better together.