Campus community responds to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma

Millions of residents of the Southeast U.S. have been hit by two major hurricanes that made landfall in recent weeks, and the State University of New York and SUNY New Paltz are answering the call to lend a helping hand.

College Telecommunications Director Jay Palen volunteered to join dispatchers in Florida preparing and responding to Hurricane Irma. He arrived in Orlando on Sept. 7 and reported to the Red Cross staging area to await instructions along with hundreds of other volunteers from across the nation.

Palen has worked with the Red Cross before and participated in responses to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He shared this update on Sunday, Sept. 10:

“Quick update from Naples Florida, I have been here since 8 p.m. on Friday at the Ave Marie University. Ten of us arrived here to fill the staffing needed to maintain the shelter, 15 total staff. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. we took in almost 250 clients. I have slept just under 5 hours since Friday morning as we have been extremely busy with a host of responsibilities. Not to mention 2 medicals over the past two nights. I have been designated as the evening supervisor of the shelter and it seems my service continues through the better part of each day. We have around 450-500 individuals here with VERY limited supplies. We had nothing to start but I managed to get water, snacks and five cots delivered yesterday.”

Palen followed with a quick update on Monday, Sept. 11:

“Long hard night but we all survived. Almost lost the roof and had to brace doors from blowing out. No power, cell just sporadically returned. Safe and well!”

Update, Sept. 14:

“It’s hard for me to keep track of the days, been here at the Dunbar Middle School in Ft. Myers since Tuesday. The team arrived here to take over a county run shelter that was established before the storm. I am guessing we will relocate the 68 remaining clients and shut this place down tomorrow or Saturday, school is back in session on Monday. Being the shelter supervisor my days are long, typically I am on shift 3AM – 10/11PM. Seems every day is a new adventure. Yesterday we were doubling as an ice/Water distribution center. Fun times.”

Faathyma Clark, executive secretary for Campus Auxiliary Services, volunteered to provide direct aid to individuals and families who were displaced by Hurricane Harvey and those who will be displaced by Hurricane Irma.

Clark participated in a Red Cross relief training “boot camp” and was interviewed about her experience for a video spot on Spectrum News.


The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) is preparing to bring 20 students to participate in relief efforts for a period of two weeks during Winter Break.

IDMH has been involved in real disaster responses in the past, including in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

In an article on the IDMH response published in the Times Herald-Record, Nitza said the goal of this trip will be “to reset a sense of being in control and … just be present, be the one that holds the hope and positivity until they can help themselves.”

Read more in this Sept. 11, 2017 Times Herald-Record editorial.

United University Professions, the union representing many of the faculty at SUNY New Paltz, is helping spread the word among its members about fundraising campaigns being run by New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

At the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of “SUNY Strong for Texas,” a statewide collection drive to aid in recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey. Cash donations are being converted into goods that will be delivered on the SUNY Maritime training vessel, the Empire State VI.

“New Yorkers know firsthand the devastation that Mother Nature can bring, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey,” Governor Cuomo said. “This drive demonstrates our core New York values of neighbors standing with neighbors in need, and I encourage all New Yorkers to donate what they can to help in these recovery efforts.”

Online donations are still being collected on the SUNY website. Please use this link to learn more and make a contribution.