MOVING TO HIGHER GROUND
Elevating Through the Storms of Life
Born and raised in the Garden State, Joe Danski is a hearty and hard-working father, grandfather and real estate educator. He has been living on a lagoon in Toms River, NJ for almost a decade with his fiancée, Vickie, a local real estate agent. But what Joe thought would become his retirement home and remain a gathering place for family celebrations has recently been decimated due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy. Joe saw his home on the water as living out a life-long dream; Sandy saw his home as merely a speed bump. Like many residents in the area, Joe is faced with catastrophic loss and destruction. Unlike many of those hit by the storm, he views his experience as merely “an inconvenience,” and he is deeply grateful for the “angels” he has encountered during the entire process.
Joe chose to evacuate before the storm hit, but he was not prepared for the damage he discovered when he returned to his neighborhood a few days later. “We couldn’t even get to our house until a day or so after, we were staying only blocks away, but the water was too deep. When we got to the house, we walked in, and the furniture was floating around. I found shoes from my bedroom in the kitchen, I saw the grandkids’ toys in the bathroom, things had floated everywhere. There was four feet of water in the house – everything was ruined – clothes, electronics, furniture, photo albums and more.”
Joe’s two sons live in New Jersey and both have offered to temporarily house Joe and Vickie, and friends all across the country have offered to help. Since late October 2012 when Superstorm Sandy ransacked the Northeast, Joe and Vickie have opted to live in the same town of Toms River with Vickie’s son (Bill), his wife (Anne), and their three kids (all under 10 years old). With seven people all living under the same roof, being flexible is vital. And Joe considers himself fortunate.
“I started talking to neighbors about what they are dealing with – many don’t have flood insurance or any resources. I could still be getting money from FEMA for rent, but I choose not to, and I remind myself that there are so many people out there that need it more than I do. We’ve got a place to live, we’re doing just fine.”
Joe realizes it’s going to be several more months before he and Vickie will be able to move back to their spot on the lagoon. But before any rebuilding can happen, there has been a seemingly insurmountable pile of debris and damaged goods to be cleaned out. With diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, Joe’s health has slowed him down and prevented him from doing a lot of the manual labor himself.
As is often the case in times of crisis, the human spirit triumphs over tragedy, and the bonds of community and connection are strengthened. And that’s just what Joe experienced when a team of college students from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Western Michigan University raised enough resources to fly to New Jersey to help clean up the storm’s wreckage. Joe and Vickie were among the beneficiaries of this team’s generous service efforts to “restore the shore.”
“These young people who came forward to help us have given me a totally new outlook on life. They wouldn’t accept even a penny for all of their hard work. All you hear on the news is the bad stuff. I was a cop for 10 years, I’m used to seeing people at the worst, not their best, it was so nice to see the other side for a change.”
Before returning to Michigan, the FCA students left Joe and Vickie with a Bible and asked if they could all pray together in the driveway. With deep gratitude, Joe explains, “We wrote a message inside the Bible that reads ‘God sent Joe and Vickie eight angels,’ and we had each kid sign it. I told them that my house would be rebuilt and that this Bible will have a prominent place in our home.”
Joe has continued to maintain communication with some of the volunteers, and he is trying to help one of the recent grads land a job in finance. “Each of those kids will be invited back here for a vacation someday.” In lieu of Christmas gifts, Joe asked each of his three children to make donations to Western Michigan University on behalf of the young people who helped him.
Despite the damage, Joe doesn’t feel like he lost his home. “My old house may be ruined, but it could always be worse. We’re pretty sure the whole house will have to be knocked down, but I want to rebuild in the same spot, only five feet higher this time!” According to Joe’s daughter in Los Angeles, “My father’s motivation to build a new home is so that he can throw a Fourth of July party this year for everyone to come and celebrate with him.”
While he admits he’s slowing down a bit, Joe has worked as a police officer, in the post office, has owned a liquor store and has sold real estate. “When I was 10 years old, my dad told me I could get anything I wanted, I just had to work for it. So I’ve been working ever since.” Fifty years later, he still enjoys empowering others, so he got his instructor’s license and now spends his time teaching courses to help others get their real estate and broker’s licenses.
“I like the idea of helping people start something new – I’m bringing them into a new career. Every class gets my cell phone number, I’ll help anyone who asks for it.”
Albeit unexpectedly, starting something new is exactly what Joe is doing. Not only is he living on “higher ground” while his flooded home gets rebuilt, he’s choosing to appreciate his life and maintain his spirit of generosity. Joe is living THE UP BEAT.