A Sunday day laborer brigade serving the survivors of Sandy

The Unitarian Church of Staten Island has had a partnership with El Centro del Inmigrante for the past three years now.  Our Board voted to become friends of El Centro back then and we have been fine tuning what it means to be community friends and partners ever since.  When El Centro’s Executive Director, Gonzalo Mercado, and I first spoke about developing a partnership and a friendship, he made it clear that this would be a mutually beneficial relationship–a two way relationship that would benefit and empower us all.  El Centro and the Unitarian Church of Staten Island have worked together during Community Days to clean up a neighborhood  on the North Shore; they have helped clean up the church grounds and sung with us on Christmas Eve one year when we celebrated Las Posadas.  El Centro provided classes and space for a number of us to learn Spanish (and we hope they can continue offering these classes again in the future).Gonzalo Mercado participated in our workshops on Immigration as a Moral Issue.


Day laborers providing relief cleaning debris
Weekly Day laborer volunteer brigade–preparing supplies


One of three Sandy help days organized for victims with the Mexican Consulate, FEMA, Red Cross and other agencies
Thanksgiving Meal organized for the Sandy Survivors

photo (14) (1)One of three Sandy help days organized for victims with the Mexican Consulate, FEMA, Red Cross and other agencies

When I look at these photos and watch the video below, I become aware of the connections we build together; each giving what we can, each opening wide the door for greater compassion, to alleviate suffering, and to empower one another to service, growth and the healing power of love.

This Storm is a tragedy that I can not even come close to describing and I am among the most privileged to live and work on the North Shore which was not as keenly impacted. This church itself also suffered very little damage, a few downed limbs and losing power for a few days–that’s all.  Yet it is when I consider how one person took  in their neighbor who lost everything but their life and their pet, how another person saw that the seniors were suffering and they helped rebuild a house for them, how people came out by the hundreds though they had no gas, heat or electricity to do what they could–it is these stories and dozens of others we hear on Staten Island and that real people experience–that reminds me how connected we are. In spite of geographical distance, language, religion, culture, race–all of these differences that are often used to build wedges between us, we are building something beautiful out of the rubble and the desecration of Sandy.  Our long term recovery group is growing and answering more of the needs of people. People from organizations and congregations are referring to one another when they discern a need that someone else can fill.

El Centro del Inmigrante found many undocumented immigrants who were suffering, some who did not qualify for services or financial assistance because of their status.  El Centro is its people– strong, resilient people who help each other and the wider community. I remember the violence of the summer of 2010 when many immigrants were being beaten (as well as Russians, a gay couple, and Muslims targeted and demeaned as they tried to purchase property for a mosque and open a community center)–members of El Centro, some of the very men who had been beaten–were always there at vigils with their families, praying to end the violence and to work together to make Staten Island a place that is welcoming and safe for all.  It is these memories that make me proud that the Unitarian Church of Staten Island that I serve has chosen to be partners with El Centro del Inmigrante–not just the organization but the people. May our relationships sustain us and transform our lives and cultures to make Staten Island the beloved community we seek.


Sandy Relief
US Secretary of Labor Visiting EL Centro

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