José A. Alvarado Jr.

Photographer
Location: New York City, New York
Nationality: Puerto Rican American
Biography: José A. Alvarado Jr. is a Puerto Rican photographer dedicated to documenting class inequality, civic engagement, and contemporary issues in Puerto Rico and New York City. He works primarily in long-form storytelling, using visual imagery... MORE
Media
for Chalkbeat: Hurricane Sandy 10 years later: Educators and parents reflect on how the storm shaped them.
josé a. alvarado jr.
Nov 8, 2022
Location: New York City
Summary
Hurricane Sandy blew into New York City late on Oct. 29, 2012, when the city’s hundreds of school buildings were empty of students and staff.
Longtime Lower East Sider and mom of six Lilah Mejia traces a direct line from helping her neighbors recover after Sandy to her current role as the president of her district’s parent volunteer-led community education council, or CEC.

Sandy knocked out power to much of her neighborhood, forcing her and her kids to walk up 19 stories to get to their apartment. This unsustainable trek prompted them to stay in the Bronx for about a month and miss two weeks at their respective schools in lower Manhattan. Upon returning, Mejia joined so many of her neighbors who rolled up their sleeves to feed each other, provide each other with information, or help in other ways.

Because Mejia had worked as a family advocate for those in child protective services, she knew about social entitlement programs such as food stamps, which came in handy as federal money was funneled to neighborhoods affected by Sandy. She eventually got a job with a community organizing group, Good Old Lower East Side, known as GOLES, to bolster its disaster recovery and preparedness initiatives. Through that she helped coordinate the meetings for the LESReady coalition, helping fight for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project designed to protect waterfront neighborhoods from devastating storm surge and regular tidal flooding. (The $1.45 billion project that would replace the current East River Park, taking chunks of open space out of commission for stretches of time, has been a lightning rod in the community.)

“We fight so many other things here — food insecurity, housing insecurity. Now we’re fighting weather,” Mejia recounted. “We never spoke about climate resiliency. That was a new term for us.”

The Sandy-related work she did “opened” her eyes, she said, and she no longer can look away. She started attending District 1’s community education council meetings in 2016 and became a member in 2018, after a previous attempt was unsuccessful. This year is her first at the council’s helm.

“I’m really involved,” Mejia said. “I’m an activist now.”

Photographed for Chalkbeat, with words by Amy Zimmer.A different Hurricane Sandy legacy: Inspiring teachers and parents to give more
Chalkbeat talked to educators and others in schools about the storm’s other lasting legacies — from strengthening bonds to creating community to efforts to improve safety.
Ny.chalkbeat.org
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for Chalkbeat:  Hurricane Sandy 10 years later: Educators and parents reflect on how the storm shaped them. by José A. Alvarado Jr.
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