High Point teens help with Hurricane Sandy cleanup effort in northeast
Three High Point teenagers earlier this month embarked on a road trip they’ll never forget.
High Point Central High School juniors Judd Heater, Jake Austin and Shep Byles — accompanied by Judd’s dad, Bruce Heater — drove all the way to New Jersey for a day of Hurricane Sandy cleanup duty, then turned around and drove back home.
“We saw just acres of trash and rubble from the hurricane that we helped clean up,” says Judd, 17. “There was all kinds of stuff that we helped clean up over a period of about eight hours.”
The humanitarian road trip came about as a result of Judd’s desire to help the people in the Northeast who were devastated by the late October storm. He took a cue from his older sister, Maddie, who made origami cranes to raise money for Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims a year and a half ago.
“That sort of inspired me to do something like that,” Judd explains. “And this disaster happened in our own country, so I feel even better about helping.”
The three teens — and their chaperone for the weekend, Judd’s dad — were able to arrange their trip through an organization called Group Mission Trips. The organization put them in touch with a church in Keansburg, N.J., that was hosting work days for volunteers to come help with the cleanup effort.
“The big challenge of going up there is finding local people to host you and direct you into the proper place,” Bruce Heater says. “You can’t just show up with a shovel and say ‘I’m ready to help.’ There are a lot of liability issues, especially with kids who are just 16 and 17 years old.”
The four left High Point late Friday afternoon, Dec. 7, and after driving nearly a dozen hours in a steady rain, arrived in New Brunswick, N.J., around 3 a.m. They got only a couple hours of sleep before rising and heading over to the church in Keansburg, where they had to report at 7 a.m. for their cleanup assignment. They worked most of the day, spent the night in New Brunswick again, then drove back home Sunday.
They were part of a team of 30 to 40 volunteers assigned to clean up rubble and trash that was scattered in a wooded area of Keansburg and along neighboring Union Beach.
“If you took a big fan and blew everything out of your house over an area of about three football fields, that’s what we came across,” Bruce Heater says. “In one area, we went into these little thickets of shrubbery and trees and brush. You could see, like, 500 shrubs, and it looks like all of them had garbage bags hanging from them — they looked like a bunch of ghosts. So what we did was gather up the trash and rubble and put it into big piles.”
In addition to trash, though, the High Point group found pieces of people’s lives scattered across the land — everything from overturned cars and displaced furniture to children’s toys and dolls, family photographs, and even a collection of comic books. They also saw house after house that had been destroyed by the mighty storm.
The trip gave Bruce Heater an appreciation for how his son is maturing, he says.
“He was very motivated to go, and I think the boys’ enthusiasm for the trip increased while they were actually there,” he says. “And they were doing a lot of stuff that was not fun, but they didn’t complain — they just did it.”
Judd agrees the weekend trip was a meaningful mission he’s not likely to forget.
“We met people from all over the country,” he says, “so it was really cool to see how everyone helped out and worked together. If a hurricane like that ever came to North Carolina, we’d have people from all over helping us out, too.”
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