David Stempler is the general manager of World Gym Wantagh, in Wantagh, a hamlet of 19,000 people on Long Island, New York. Wantagh bills itself as "The Gateway to Jones Beach," and the club is located just a few miles from the ocean, midway between East Bay and South Oyster Bay. Stempler had reason to be concerned as Hurricane Sandy approached.
The 47,000-square-foot, multipurpose, family-oriented club has an emergency-preparedness system in place. "We have an emergency plan that consists of a phone-call-and-text chain for employees about closing, etc.," Stempler tells CBI Unbound. "We have established protocols for outside and inside storm readiness and have assigned tasks for securing both, cutting power and gas, sandbagging, etc."
Preparing for the onslaught of wind and rain, Stempler closed the club on October 29 and 30.
Fortunately, World Gym Wantagh didn't lose power, flood, or see any destruction. "We were lucky in that we didn't sustain any real damage during the storm," he says. "In fact, we were one of the few places on Long Island that had power throughout."
The same couldn't be said of the rest of Wantagh. There was significant flooding, destroyed homes and businesses, closed schools, and widespread power outages all along the south shore of Long Island.
Like a number of other health clubs in the massive storm zone, Stempler's quickly came to the aid of those in need. "Many of our members suffered major storm damage," he explains. "A lot of people in our area had to wait up to 14 days for return of power, and some, on the coast, still don't have any. … Because we had electric and gas service, we opened the club to the community the day after the storm.
"We also extended the invitation to out-of-town line workers, some of whom were living in tents or fire stations without showers, and to FEMA employees."
On any given day, the club, which has some 4,000 members and 100 employees, hosted approximately 100-150 "visitors."
Those who took advantage of the club's offer, Stempler notes, were able to enjoy a warm place to sit and relax, hot showers, steam rooms, hot saunas, a café for food, and access to electrical power to charge phones, computers, flashlights, and whatever else was in need of recharging. "Some of the temporary FEMA staff here on Long Island are still using the club for showers," he reports.
"Our regular members were more than happy to help out, and had no problem with occasionally having to wait in lines. I received many compliments from them, and not a single complaint.
"One of the best things in the world is being able to help others during a stressful time," Stempler reflects. "We are blessed that we were able to help."
- Craig R. Waters is the editor-in-chief of CBI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.