Oct. 28, 2012. I was a history teacher at The Charles Finney School in Penfield, New York.
Oct. 29, 2012. It was night. Hurricane Sandy arrived and pushed the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean into 1,500 homes in Highlands, New Jersey. Mass disaster.
Nov. 10, 2012. It was day. A Project Compassion mission team from The Charles Finney School in Penfield, New York, arrived in Highlands to serve in any way possible. Unorganized mountains of people’s lives everywhere.
Guided into action by Highlands Councilwoman Tara Ryan, the team of five boys, four girls and two chaperones sorted relief supplies at a church and helped feed the homeless thousands at another church. My students and I were no longer merely absorbing the facts and truths of history, we were being absorbed into history by serving heartbroken souls at ground zero of the second most destructive hurricane in American history.
As we drove out of the destroyed town of Highlands, I was convinced that The Charles Finney School should make a lasting commitment to the traumatized people of this charming seaside town. Over the next six years, Project Compassion mission teams returned 15 times. Acts of compassion have included bringing Christmas to shivering families just making it in homes without heat, donating a new fence and helping install another, painting the social halls at the VFW and American Legion, providing school supplies for students, installing a concrete floor at a business and providing plywood for a new floor in a house.
Councilwoman Tara Ryan sent me her reflections on Project Compassion’s impact in Highlands.
Just a few days after the destruction of SuperStorm Sandy, while we were still reeling, the members of Project Compassion came to our town and started helping us put it all back together. Many Highlands families have benefited from the amazing work and dedication offered by Project Compassion. Actually, the entire town has benefited, since the positive actions of the team effect everyone who hears of the work they have done. I have personally benefited, by being shown the goodness and kindness that still exists in this world, after my world was almost destroyed.
On Aug. 4, 2018, nine students and three chaperones returned from Finney’s 16th Project Compassion mission to Highlands — a dizzying rate of one mission trip every 4 1/2 months over 6 1/2 years. The team completed a few community projects and helped a family by digging a 50-foot trench for a new gas line. It was our third project at their house. The mother sent me these words in an email.
Words cannot express how deeply grateful we are for your attention, your compassion, your prayers and your assistance. You have already brought us hope and relief. Regardless of the outcome of our home construction, we will be forever indebted to you for the Christian love you have shown us.
The family is still not back in their home since Sandy.
Since 2012, Finney’s relentless student missionaries have served on 37 Project Compassion mission trips to 25 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Mexico, Haiti and Malawi.
The Charles Finney School is a private, faith-based, pre-K to 12 school in Penfield.