This past Friday evening I found myself at a fundraiser and a celebration of our town spirit, standing on a barrel in the middle of Market Street in Keene Valley, speaking to more than 250 people, many that I have only come to know over the past two weeks but whom I now consider as part of an extended family.
For the 20 years that I came here to vacation for a few weeks a year, like most vacationers, I really wasn't aware of the community around me. And frankly, as a big city dweller used to the anonymity of urban life, I didn't even know what community meant. But starting in 2004, when my partner Dave and I made Keene our full-time home, I found out what I had been missing.
These past few days since Irene hit us hard have taken that understanding to a whole new level. The outpouring of hands-on help and support, and the quick response of so many people, from our government officials to our road crew to our firefighters to our average citizens, has been simply inspiring. Other leaders in our communities have come together to raise money to help the families and businesses that have lost so much and have such a long way to go to recover from this disaster.
It is not a cliche to say that this has been one of our finest hours. But this is no time to pat ourselves on our aching backs. We need to find more reservoirs of strength and dig deeper into our bank accounts to continue to help our communities rebuild and get back on their feet.
It is now sinking in just how much needs to be replaced and how vulnerable our local economies are to a reduction in visitor traffic. The politicians have been here and the aid agencies are on the ground, but we know that they can only cover a small portion of what is needed. The simple reality is that many did not have flood insurance. Those who had hurricane insurance learned that 2 feet of water flowing through their home or store wasn't enough to qualify; they needed to have their shingles torn off as well. Others learned that FEMA support, needed though it is, will cover only a small fraction of the replacement costs, assuming they qualified in the first place.
Fundamentally, we need to address these needs ourselves and not expect the government to be able to do that much. Everyone who can, from the wealthiest to the most average of citizens, needs to think about their best way to help out and then do it. And keep doing it. The truth is many in greatest need are parents of the kids in our schools, serve in our volunteer fire and emergency departments, clean people's houses, work as waiters and waitresses, clerks in stores, in our highway departments and in many of the other ways that glue together our community.
It's also inspiring to see how many people are reaching out from neighboring communities to help those they know and care about. We are all connected here in the Adirondacks, and strong communities result from strong connections among communities. We must continually widen the circles of giving and volunteering, and this is an opportunity to do that. I urge people to support the Keene Flood Recovery Fund, the Town of Jay Irene Relief Fund and the benefits that have been organized by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, USA Luge and the Whiteface Lodge, among others.
Thank you to everyone for all they have done so far to respond to this wound to our beloved area. We will heal, and along the way maybe we have learned something that can keep us all strong going forward.
Jim Herman is president of the Keene Community Trust.