Kyle On: Patrick Targét & Hurricane Sandy

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy last fall impacted countless lives; New York and New Jersey residents were hit hard, leaving them homeless, hungry, and without the proper means to survive.  Sandy wrought the worst damage the New York City subway has seen in its 108 year tenure and the total estimated cost of recovery for the entire storm tolls about $50 billion.

However, Patrick Target, a ’10 DeSales alum, can report that things are getting better.  Target is currently a Service Fellow for the City of New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and in the wake of Sandy, organized relief efforts to the people of the great city.  In New York’s time of need, Patrick led emergency response units in three of the five boroughs and put his life on the line to help those who needed it most.

But funnily enough, Target’s prestigious position was something he sort of fell into.

Upon graduating DeSales with a Bachelor’s in Clinical Counseling Psychology and minors in both Philosophy and French, Target fled to Bermuda to figure out his first post-grad step and study for the GRE.  In his search for the perfect graduate education, he moved to New York and was wait-listed at Columbia University and NYU.  There, he took up a retail job to pay the bills and in his spare time, began volunteering at Art for Change, a non-profit organization that uses art and media programs to encourage young people to take an active role in social justice.

While living the glamorous post-graduate life, Target heard about an open position at the mayor’s office through a friend who worked there.  One thing led to another and after a self-described “typical application routine” he had a desk in Bloomberg’s office.

The community service office where Target works was founded as part of a city-wide initiative in direct response to President Obama’s call in April 2009 to make the US more civic minded.  The office has three main objectives: help New Yorkers connect with service opportunities, address the city’s greatest needs, and teach what it means to be a citizen of New York.

Patrick4“There are twelve people, including me,” Patrick said, “that collaborate with City Hall and address a variety of needs from education to the environment, and public health to emergency preparedness.”

“It’s very fast paced and you have to be able to think on your toes,” he explained.  “You have to be able to foresee roadblocks and how to work around them, and multitask.  And I mean multitask.  Usually there are about seven different projects on my desk at one time, and they’re all high priority.”

His work there is enjoyable from the company he keeps as well.  He said many of his co-workers are extremely dynamic and talented and are genuinely good people who share his same interests.

“It’s high stress, but it’s good stress,” he said.  “It’s not for the faint of heart.  You have to be flexible and be ready to put in the work.  But I like to keep busy.”

But high stress was something of an understatement when Hurricane Sandy’s storm clouds rolled in off the Atlantic last October.

Target’s office was forewarned about the storm, and though he was leaving on an anniversary holiday, was required to be available on his blackberry.  A few days later, Sandy hit.  And she hit hard.

“I had to come home early from my anniversary.  A black van picked me up outside my apartment.  I had no idea where I was going and wasn’t even sure when I’d be back.”

That black van took him to shelters in The Bronx, Queens, and The Lower East Side of Manhattan which he managed with his team members and proactive volunteers.  Serving as a captain at many of the shelters, flexibility was key.  Target would be in charge of contacting backup support from the National Guard when supplies ran low, making sure the shelters were up to code and running properly, organizing transport for victims, and taking part in meal distribution.

Patrick2Cooperation between the community service office and other organizations was crucial.  Partnering with the National Guard, the NYC Housing Authority Department, and non-profits like NY Cares, an organization specializing in training volunteers, made the operation run smoothly in spite of everything.  Managing groups of volunteers was a huge responsibility that could have easily spun out of control if held in the wrong hands.

“Every morning we sought people out who needed the most help,” Target admitted.  “People would come off the street, left and right, needing meals, blankets, and baby supplies.”

Twelve hour days were common, and the relief effort lasted for over a month.

Overturned telephone poles, rogue electrical wires, trees blocking roadways, and streets resembling rivers – it was not the New York imagery most think of when imagining the Big Apple.

“Being a first responder really got to me,” Target noted.  “I had gone to help out with the Katrina effort with DSU, but it was years later.  I’ve seen devastation, but when it hits home, seeing that live, raw emotion…it really worked a number on me.”

When the power came back on and the shelters began to empty, Target and his team took a role in ensuring everyone was discharged properly and that no one was overlooked.

Now that Sandy relief has died down, Patrick assists with a number of different projects.  Through work he meets people that come from all over the world to volunteer and it’s his job to find out what they are best suited for and what direction he can point them in.

For the Christmas season, he also helped to organize Secret Snowflake, an operation that connects less fortunate families with City Hall employees who are willing to give to those who cannot afford gifts.

“In all honesty, I never thought I’d be doing this,” Target said.

He admitted to growing up in a very political home with a mother in politics and a lawyer father who was connected in the Caribbean.  However, as genealogy would have it, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.  The connection between his parents’ careers and his own is the service aspect and doing civic minded work that’s meaningful.

“I was an international kid,” he went on.  “I was born in New York and lived in Miami, Panama, and Haiti and then went to high school and college in Pennsylvania.  But I miss writing papers.  I want to go back to school at some point.”

To further improve his social work and chances for obtaining entry to grad school, Target was named a Board Member at Art for Change, and if that was not enough, volunteers for a suicide counseling non-profit as well.  And you thought your days were busy.

“Volunteering is everything.  Think about a time when you had an extra pair of hands to help you – it’s not just for people trying to get free help, but for those who are really going through a rough time.  You’re helping a community thrive.  And the payoff is priceless.”

*This article was published in the February Issue of DeSales Magazine