By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As the holidays approach and the winter weather further bears down on New York, many are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, which washed away many parts of the Rockaways, Coney Island, and other shore towns of New York in October. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has begun demolishing homes damaged by the storm, and lawsuits have been filed against Con Edison for their delay in restoring power to neighborhoods.
While people from across the globe have donated money, clothes and their time to assist those in need, many Brooklyn attorneys stepped up to the plate to help their fellow New Yorkers.
Lisa Bova-Hiatt, deputy chief of bankruptcy legislation for the New York City Law Department and Brooklyn Law School alum, co-managed a shelter in Staten Island. “After Hurricane Katrina, the City of New York made sure that all of their managers were trained in disaster relief,” Bova-Hiatt told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in an exclusive interview.
Little did the city or Bova-Hiatt know that a mere seven years later, such disaster training would become a necessity. “I take a disaster training course every year,” said Bova-Hiatt. “And it came in handy. We had over 900 evacuees in our shelter during Hurricane Sandy, over 200 of them were children.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Bova-Hiatt spent Sunday, Oct. 28 through Friday, Nov. 2, making sure the evacuees had “food, were comfortable and dry.”
“We had wonderful volunteers, like Vinny Sisto, and worked very closely with elected officials,” noted Bova-Hiatt. In fact, Bova-Hiatt was among the few who met President Barack Obama during his survey of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
With Halloween on the horizon, Bova-Hiatt and the staff of the shelter wanted to take the children’s minds off of the devastation that awaited them when they returned home.
“We had amazing teachers volunteer their time and help the kids make costumes. The staff brought the candy.” The children also created a snazzy song: “Trick-or Treat, we want candy, we’re not afraid of Hurricane Sandy.”
Volunteering at shelters was one way that Brooklyn attorneys assisted Sandy victims. Many also volunteered their legal services. Michael Durove, a resident of Sheepshead Bay, provided legal advice to many of his neighbors.
“The New York State Bar Association contacted all of their members that wanted to volunteer, “ Durove recounted. Although his primary practice is business law, Durove found himself assisting clients with various insurance matters and landlord/tenant issues.
“The Bar Association provided many resources for attorneys, as well as for the general public,” Durove said. “They provided, in a message board format, a way for attorney volunteers to reach out fellow lawyers who are experts in certain fields of law. If I received a client with a FEMA question, I could easily seek assistance from an attorney with extensive FEMA experience.”
What prompts attorneys to volunteer their time and services often varies. For Bova-Hiatt, it was returning to a place that she called home. “I was born and raised in Midwood and went to school in Bay Ridge but I have since moved to Staten Island.”
The reasons were twofold for Durove. “I wanted to practice my advocacy skills in becoming a better attorney and a better person but, I also volunteered because of my personal experience with Sandy. My family members live in the Rockaways and had been forced to live in the dark and cold. I also live in Sheepshead Bay and many parts of my neighborhood had been flooded,” he said.
Bova-Hiatt’s home in Staten Island also suffered from power outages. “I had no power for ten days but, I did not know because I was working in the shelter,” she said.
Attorneys possess a unique skill of identifying issues, finding agreeable solutions, and advocating for the needs of others. As Durove pointed out, “When attorneys are not worried about profit, it seems that they are better advocates for people in need.”