Wednesday, December 12, 2012

KIRF Field Report: Hurricane Sandy Relief in New York City

On Friday, December 7th, Mark Kirwin, founder of KIRF and member of the Rotary Club of Ventura, with Steve Doll, who is also a member of the Rotary Club of Ventura, traveled to New York city to help the on-going Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  After landing at JFK, they met up with KIRF board member Patrick Rea, a resident of New York. Patrick had been doing on-the-ground assessments of post-Hurricane Sandy relief needs was ready to help.

That Friday night we visited several shelters in Brooklyn and found out that they were no longer providing aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. The people at the shelters suggested that we travel to the hardest hit areas: Staten Island, the Rockaways, and Coney Island–areas where there was still a lot of need. According to the New York Times, most of the flooding and deaths from Hurricane Sandy occurred in these areas. Of the people who died from Hurricane Sandy in New York City, 34 of the 43 deaths were elderly residents on Staten Island.

On Saturday morning we met with local volunteer relief workers at the area’s Occupy Sandy headquarters. Occupy Sandy is a New York City-based disaster relief group of local citizens, humanitarians and tech-savvy volunteers that has been quick to to deliver relief supplies directly to Hurricane Sandy victims. When we arrived we saw a logistically well-organized relief effort being run by an Occupy Sandy volunteer group headed by a relief worker named Kelly. From what we understood, the Occupy Sandy group had volunteers working in different neighborhoods of the region’s storm ravaged areas.  These volunteers worked with local resident councils who advised them on their most pressing needs.  The councils then distributed the provided aid to their residents who made the requests. Many thanks goes to the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew for their incredible kindness in offering the Occupy Sandy group a safe and secure place from which to direct their volunteer disaster relief.

We purchased relief supplies that were requested by the resident councils of two areas devastated by extensive flooding: the low-income housing complex of Ocean Towers on Coney Island and the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn. After purchasing the relief supplies for the Ocean Towers complex, we delivered them directly to their resident council. The supplies they requested included baby food, diapers, and wipes, toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and feminine sanitary products, and cleaning supplies: mops, construction gloves, sponges, garbage cans, construction garbage bags, bleach (for cleaning the mold from the water surge); and school supplies such as pencils, crayons and lined paper. And, we purchased non-perishable food items that were requested such as canned soups, tuna fish, and stews. We then purchased and delivered similar items requested by the resident council of the flood damaged Red Hook neighborhood with the assistance of Occupy Sandy relief workers.

There are piles of ruined furniture and garbage from cleaning out water-damaged homes lining the streets in the coastal neighborhoods we visited.

It still amazes me as to how much aid is still needed even five weeks after a major disaster, especially for low income families with children and the elderly, in a major American city like New York.

A special thanks goes to the Rotary Club of Ventura who partnered with KIRF to provide the funds to purchase the aid for this disaster relief effort.  We also thank the manager of the Brooklyn Path Mark grocery store who gave us a discount when we purchased relief supplies.  Our relief effort would not of been possible without the tireless efforts of the people of Occupy Sandy, including Kelly, Lev and the rest of the volunteers. These people made the efficient distribution of aid possible from the private sector. Five weeks after the disaster, they continue to get aid to families still suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. And, last but not least, I thank Steve and Patrick for volunteering their time and joining me in this effort.


Mark Kirwin
Founder of KIRF (

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Empowering Young Women Through Softball in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

Playa Gigante, Nicaragua Mark Kirwin
Mark Kirwin at Playa Gigante
Surf nomads discovered the perfect surf breaks of the west coast of Nicaragua about 30 years ago. From Playa Colorado to Playa Popoyo, surfers from all over the world have made the Pacific coast of Nicaragua a popular surf destination in the past decade. Some people are concerned that the traditional small farms and fishing villages on these still pristine beaches and hillsides will be overwhelmed by the influx of tourists and unskilled outsiders looking for work–or easy targets for crime.  What the locals do not want is to lose their beautiful sandy beaches to gated tourist lodges and luxury homes surrounded by crime, garbage and poverty.

In the coastal community of Playa Gigante local residents and two non-profits are working to make sure that it doesn't happen there. There are several community-wide development projects in the works that aim to help the local people adapt to the new tourist economy in a way that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. The feeling of the town reminds me of the Hawaiian concept of ‘ohana, in that the small town is like an extended family and that no one should be left behind. The town, at about 450 residents, is small enough that everyone knows everyone else but is big enough to require its own school and a healthy economy to support it's local families.

Assessment work in Playa Gigante
for Ventura Rotary Club
Mark Kirwin, founder of KIRF, came to Playa Gigante as a volunteer field worker for the Ventura Rotary Club to help them with their project assessments of the aid requests to help the local families of Playa Gigante.  To read more about the Ventura Rotary Club project, please see the Rotary website post "Three Ventura Rotarians Conclude a Successful Trip to Nicaragua." After meeting with local community leaders  and visiting project sites while working for the Ventura Rotary Club in August 2012, Mark realized that his own foundation KIRF could make a difference, too. Mark met with the inspiring founders of two local non-profits in town, the Sweet Water Fund and Project WOO, that are actively working with the town’s leaders to improve education, health services, and create economic opportunities in the surf tourism economy for local families. The result of those meetings was KIRF's sponsorship of the Estrellas de Gigante, Playa Gigante's women’s softball team, with its donation of new sports equipment.  Baseball is the national sport of Nicaragua and many towns have a local team.  Playa Gigante's local women's team has not only been a source of pride for the women, it has strengthened their social ties within the community. The team was also founded as a means of improving local the women's health and fitness. So far, it’s been a great success!

Outfitting the Playa Gigante Women's Softball team:
Ben and Kassidy (Sweet Water Fund), Ed McCombs
(Ventura Rotary) and Mark Kirwin (KIRF)
Sports equipment purchased by KIRF included new bats, balls, bases and new softball mits for each player including a left-handed mit for a pretty young lefty named Martita. The softball field still needs a lot of work including a "real" dugout and stands for spectators but we hope others will come forward to help out these amazing young ladies and their team soon.  To see photos of Playa Gigante's women's softball team with their new sports gear, please checkout the Sweet Water Fund's post " outfits the softball girls".

Mark Kirwin with Bo (Project WOO) and
Ed (Ventura Rotary)
We are looking forward to returning to Playa Gigante in December and visiting the inspiring folks at Sweet Water Fund and Project Woo.  While there we will assess other needs (such as a well and a health center) and see what more we can do for a community that has been so generous with its natural gifts of smiles, delicious meals, and, of course, those perfect waves.