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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Superstorm Sandy volunteers staying out of politics

Dan Caracciolo and members of the 11518 Inc.

Dan Caracciolo and members of the 11518 Inc. remove dead brush. on the yard of John and Dawn Schmidt in East Rockaway on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The home sustained damage from Superstorm Sandy almost two years ago. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Superstorm Sandy volunteers from a variety of Long Island communities signaled little interest yesterday in running for office or otherwise joining the region's political infrastructure.

That's because, several said during a news conference in Farmingdale, their so-called "pop-up" community groups had more sustained success dealing neighbor-to-neighbor than with government -- state, federal and local -- during and after the disaster.

"We are going to continue to be there to do the things that government can't do," said Rich Holder, of the Friends of Freeport. "It's neighbor reaching out to neighbor, just like an old-fashioned barn raising."

Local civic activism traditionally has been a fertile breeding ground for politicians. But many of the two dozen or so representatives of 19 community organizations gathered for the news conference as part of the umbrella Friends of Long Island organization seemed content to stay where they are.

In fact, when asked whether there was interest in joining the government, not one representative raised their hand.

"I've been asked to run for office and I've said no," said Dan Caracciolo, a member of The11518, in East Rockaway. "I do feel that we can get a lot done outside of politics."

Others cited the current state of politics as something they wanted to avoid -- which is understandable. But maybe, just maybe, some volunteers will change their minds down the road -- because Long Island would benefit from their experience, commitment and drive. But most of all, from their hearts -- which have sustained many a Sandy survivor still facing seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

Richard Schaffer, Babylon's town supervisor, said, "We've never seen people come together as they have during this process, and they did it without any rule book or lesson plan."

Judy Skillen, a retired director of special education for West Babylon schools, began organizing volunteer efforts, along with her daughter, Kim, after the storm because of a request from a grandchild who, back then, was in high school.

"Instead of presents for her birthday, she asked if we could do something for neighbors who were hurting," said Skillen, who lives in Babylon.

Now, two years after the storm, the group Skillen and her family started, Neighbors Supporting Neighbors, is a registered nonprofit. And as both Skillen and Schaeffer noted, the group also has been designated as a state Community Organization Active in Disaster, giving it a formal role in aiding Babylon to prepare and recover from future disasters.

But many of the groups, even as they continue Sandy recovery efforts, are not waiting for the next storm. They are reaching out into other arenas, including raising money to help sick neighbors.

And, representatives of several groups said, they hope to keep helping neighbors, now and for generations to come.

"I think we are effective right now, and right where we are," said Amy Castiglia, of Lindy Manpower, a Lindenhurst volunteer group, explaining why she prefers remaining outside the political arena. "We were able to take common kindness," she said, "and push it forward."

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