After school let out Tuesday afternoon, seven Scouts from Boy Scout Troop No. 33 in DeKalb and two of their Scout leaders headed to New Jersey to help superstorm Sandy victims.
Since their two-day journey to the coast in a white Boy Scouts van ended Wednesday night, local Scouts Ryan McNett, brothers Hunter and Wesley Jensen, Keegan Donnelly, Caeden Keith, Travis de Oliveira and Brandon Tolliver have been working to help residents.
They also brought donated money and items they collected from local people and delivered them to a local bank and charities in the area.
The boys, who range in age from 11 to 15 years old, spent Thanksgiving Day at a retirement home in Middletown, N.J., where they served lunch and kept company with the residents who remained there.
On Friday, the boys were in Brick, N.J., on the coast about 50 miles south of New York City. There, scouts worked to clean debris from a local seaside park, and then moved on to help an elderly couple whose home had been filled with waist-deep water and whose backyard was filled with debris.
Later Friday, they planned to help a local relief agency relocate.
“It’s pretty bad,” said Chad McNett, a DeKalb police officer and scout leader who led the group along with Scoutmaster Cliff Golden. “I think people here are, they’re a little more freaked out than you’d find in the Lousiana-Texas border that experiences this every so often.”
Speaking by phone Friday from New Jersey, McNett described a landscape where all manner of debris was piled by the street outside homes: Drywall, furniture, an assortment of household items.
“There are pieces of docks and garbage in people’s yards,” McNett said. “The garbage piled out at the road as you drive around is just incredible. You can see all the houses have been gutted.”
Ryan McNett, Chad’s son and a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Clinton Rosette Middle School, said he wanted to make the trip because it was important to him to help.
He felt his day’s work Friday helping to clear debris from parks and homes had done just that.
“There’s docks I’m pulling apart all over the beach,” Ryan McNett said. “I feel like I’ve helped out.”
The scope of the destruction from the storm is probably worse than many of us imagine, he said.
“I saw, like, houses that were, like, torn apart, there was one house that was, like, half-gone, there were some houses that were not there, they were in pieces everywhere, it was a complete disaster,” he said. “I just didn’t think it could be that bad.”
Hunter Jensen, an eighth-grader at Clinton Rosette, said he had experience in helping people after disasters. Last year he visited Harrisburg to help residents there pick up the pieces after a tornado.
“I just liked helping the people, and I wanted to do it again,” Hunter Jensen said.
Golden, the Scoutmaster, said the local Scouts have made previous trips to disaster areas, including after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and ’09. He said the Scouts might organize another trip to the storm zone during the schools’ winter break when more young people could make it.
Here’s hoping the Scouts have a safe trip home after doing a good job representing our community and helping those in need.
• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-459-4841 ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.