A Jersey Shore Thank You From an 'Average Joe'

Vacationer Kieth Ashner walks back to his hotel room after watching tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy come ashore at Rehoboth
Vacationer Kieth Ashner walks back to his hotel room after watching tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy come ashore at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, October 28, 2012. Airlines cancelled thousands of flights into and from airports along the US east coast ahead of the arrival of a major storm, officials said Sunday. Air France and other European airlines cancelled all flights into New York and Washington on Monday while US airlines called off thousands of domestic flights and moved planes away from east coast airports away from the path of Hurricane Sandy. New York airports stayed open Sunday but the airport authority warned passengers there will be major disruption in the next two days. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

My name is Joe. My Jersey Shore cannot be defined by any reality show. My community and I are the Jersey Shore. When people ask me to describe myself, I usually tell them two things: I proudly tell them that I am a teacher, and that I am from the Jersey Shore.

I have been a resident of Point Pleasant Beach since 1984 and a resident of the Jersey Shore since 1976. I have called the Jersey Shore home all of my life, as have many of the people who live here. For those who leave the shore, it remains a part of them forever. To those of us who remained here, it's a big part of our identity. The boardwalk was where I earned my college tuition. I spent most of my childhood allowance at the arcades. Many of us had our first dates up at the boardwalk. I graduated from Point Pleasant Beach schools where we laughed that our mascot was a "Fighting Gull," but still rooted for our tiny teams. My town is only one square mile, so I knew every kid in school by name, and called all of their family and friends by name, too. The ocean was where I went to think, exercise, study, talk, and relax. It's where we prefer to pedal rather than drive. It is home.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, we were so profoundly affected as a country, but as a resident of Point Pleasant Beach, I felt so personally assaulted by this storm. It filled my childhood living room with water where my buddies and I watched movies, and where my mother has called home for the last 33 years. The flood waters assaulted neighboring Bay Head and crept into my brother's house, one he dreamed about, personally designed, built, and invested much of his life's earnings toward. The storm didn't just knock down houses, it suddenly made Mrs. Feehan, a family friend, and countless others homeless. In 48 hours, it took away our favorite watering holes, restaurants, bakeries, hangouts. Sandy destroyed those really cool old beach bungalows that I loved seeing filled with summer beachgoers, a tourist economy that my town relies upon. It knocked out the Mantoloking Bridge, a vital link that connected our shore towns. This storm affected our towns economically, physically, emotionally, and even geographically. It even changed the way water flowed and rested through our waterways.

The truly desperate thing about this is that there is a "Joe" in every house on every street of every shore town in New Jersey, not to mention Staten Island, Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, and the tree-lined communities of central and northern Jersey and other regions of the eastern seaboard that went powerless for more than a week.

But I must tell you that since Sandy, I've witnessed a spirit of giving, love, and support like I haven't seen in my life. Strangers came from miles away to donate supplies, or roll up sleeves to do the glamour-less work of gutting swamped, stinky, musty houses. The National Guard, Coast Guard, police, fire and rescue units kept watch over our battered towns 24/7 to protect them from further harm. I watched a church community led by a husband-and-wife team cut, cook, and prepare 500 meals a day and deliver them to the elderly, distressed, and overworked. I have seen men and women in trucks and tractors from every conceivable state swarm in to lend a hand or shovel. I was among the hundreds of neighbors and strangers that helped to move waterlogged appliances and personal items, carefully sorting photos, coin collections, and family treasures, placing them out to dry before lending a shoulder to cry on. Linemen braced cold winds and dangerous power lines to reconnect our communities to give us light and heat. Strangers offered coffee to those waiting in ever-winding gas lines. I saw people being gentle to one another, waving their fellow man through dark intersections. I saw people listening to the radio for information in the glow of candlelit living rooms. I watched children go outside and play together on pogo sticks and jump ropes, and joining around board games with their parents. I saw time slow down.

As I looked around my community in the darkness of the blackout, I had this feeling of hope. I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if everyone could hang onto this feeling of community, support, and love when their iPads and laptops begin to charge again?"

Thank you for caring about our community. By helping to support my town, you are helping every town down here. The Jersey Shore is a huge part of the fabric of our country. People from all over the U.S. and world come to New Jersey to enjoy our beaches, ocean, boardwalks, casinos, restaurants, and amusements. Sandy has certainly bruised our coastline, but it hasn't broken our spirit. We will rebuild. We will come back. With your help, we will feed the displaced, clean up the wreckage, and restore the shore that I love and have always called home.

To everyone who supported, volunteered, protected, restored, cleaned, cried over, or donated food and supplies to the affected shore areas of New Jersey: I feel your love. Thank you. Your generosity won't be forgotten.