U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan visited the state park to assist the nonprofit group Clean Ocean Action and more than 250 volunteers during the National Day of Service. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey helped, too.
"In local communities, we all have to be part of the rebuilding process," Donovan said to the crowd before wading through chilly gusts, beach grass and standing water.
Mangano praised Donovan, chairman of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, who is a former New Yorker and works closely with relief agencies.
"It's great to have a local in Washington, D.C., to help us out," said Mangano, adding that Donovan has been in "constant contact" with his office.
The 14 other members of President Barack Obama's cabinet also volunteered throughout the country Saturday on a day the first family launched four years ago on inauguration weekend, to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 2,500 volunteers helped clean out neighborhoods, parks, beaches and waterways, or rebuild dunes at 30 locations throughout New York and New Jersey as part of the nonprofit's initiative called "Waves of Action," to help communities devastated by Sandy. Locations included Lindenhurst, Staten Island and Atlantic City.
"Our parks were built by volunteers and maintained by volunteers," said Harvey, adding that Jones Beach State Park and Ocean Parkway each sustained $100 million in damage. "Hopefully, we will have the park open by Memorial Day."
Donovan, former head of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said he has fond memories of Jones Beach, including seeing James Taylor, who will sing "America the Beautiful" during the inauguration ceremony on Sunday.
"This is personal to me. That's why the president chose me to lead this effort," said Donovan, who lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan before moving to Washington, D.C. He added, "New Yorkers are tough. We will rebuild. We will make this a better place and more beautiful."