The remnants of Hurricane Ida came barreling through New York City on Sept. 1, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain, destroying homes and cars, and devastating families throughout the tristate region.
The UFT immediately launched a UFT Disaster Relief Fund campaign to help members coping with storm damage. Members responded quickly, donating more than $40,000 “to support their colleagues, as we do when tragedy and natural disasters impact our lives,” said UFT Vice President Karen Alford, who is the fund’s chair.
Ecena Cueto, a school counselor at PS 329 in the Bronx, was one of the 80 UFT members to receive assistance. She was at home in her Soundview neighborhood when she noticed water coming in under her back door. She put down towels, but soon the water came gushing through.
“It was so scary. The pressure pushed the door open, and then it was like a river coming into my house,” she said. As the water’s depth reached 3 feet, Cueto realized she had to get out fast.
“I grabbed my work laptop, my purse and car keys and slept in my car that night,” she said. “There was nowhere to go. A tree was down on the block.”
The next day, Cueto went back inside to discover she “had to change the Sheetrock because it was moldy and black, and I need a new boiler, hot water heater, washer and dryer, all of the electrical.”
Her insurance wouldn’t cover any of it. But her UFT representative and a fellow member reached out and told her about the UFT Disaster Relief Fund. The union’s contribution enabled her to make a step toward restoring some normalcy.
Cueto will be putting the money toward a new boiler. “I’m so grateful and thankful to be part of a community where people are there for each other,” she said. “We’re connected, even though we don’t know each other directly.”
In Queens, Palmyre Seraphin, who teaches at Channel View School for Research in Far Rockaway and lives in Jamaica, saw a “huge ocean in the streets.”
Her first floor sustained more than $30,000 in damages, and she lost her family’s three cars, which floated away in 5 feet of water. Without a car and with no car rentals available after the storm, she was fortunate that colleagues helped her get to work for three weeks until a rental car was finally available.
Seraphin applied for help after learning about the union’s disaster relief fund from a friend. “The union stepped in immediately, and that was very reassuring,” she said.
Seraphin was encouraged to also seek help from New York State United Teachers, the UFT’s state affiliate, which also sent a check.
“That really made me feel appreciated,” she said, “and it gave me a sense of being part of a community that does care.”