I lost everything during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. In the aftermath, I realized I wanted to give back to my community of Coney Island. The need was overwhelming, and I knew there were things I could do to help.
Coney Island, NY resident Pamela Pettyjohn’s life of volunteerism began as an extreme need. When her Coney Island home and a large part of her community was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Pettyjohn came to the realization that despite her losses, she had to give back to the many thousands in need.
“I lost everything from Superstorm Sandy,” she said. “But I needed to give back. The devastation was so vast, and no one knew what to do. Local authorities, the State and the Federal governments were on site, but no one was talking to each other. We suffered from a 20-foot storm surge that mostly came from flooding along Coney Island Creek. Homes and businesses were flooded from salt water, raw sewage and debris. It was devastating,” she said. “But I viewed the disaster as an opportunity not to just put things back together but to actually make things better.”
Along with friends, Pamela co-founded and is the President of the Coney Island Beautification Project in 2014. The non-profit was formed to foster community involvement and education in the enhancement of the environment and resiliency of post Superstorm Sandy. “We focus on neighborhood greening, developing and enhancing parks, street tree beds, waterfronts and other green spaces for public use,” Pamela says.
Through her organizational outreach, Coney Island Beautification Project connected with mutually-missioned National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the group that nominated Pamela for her Cabot Community Celebrity Award. Like Cabot, the NPCA is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year!
“The National Parks Conservation Association is dedicated to protecting and enhancing America’s National Park System for present and future generations, and that is something that struck a positive chord with me,” Pamela said. “Coney Island is situated in the heart of the Gateway National Recreation Area. I have learned so much by volunteering with NPCA,” Pamela said. “I’m not a highly-degreed person but I am good at communicating with people and energizing groups to do greater good in their communities,” she said. “Working closely with NPCA gives me a larger voice and the ability to reach people throughout the Northeast region of the United States from Maine to New Jersey. A region where I am honored to sit as a Northeast Council Member able to make decisions concerning 49 National Parks.
Pamela is also the co-chair of the Engagement Committee for the New York-New Jersey Resiliency Task Force, a group that focuses on long-term solutions for social and physical resilience for New York and New Jersey communities threatened by climate change, storm surge and infrastructure issues. “We help inform the public on critical issues like climate change, develop long-range disaster plans, educate the public on things like disaster recovery, rising coastal water levels and other events that can impact their well-being,” Pamela said.
When asked what she likes to do in her spare time, Pamela laughed and said, “I barely have time for hobbies. I’m always busy volunteering so I guess you could say that is my hobby."
One thing that might surprise you is Coney Island Beautification Project is now part of an exhibit at the Queens Museum entitled "Who Takes Care of New York". CIBP was invited by the United Sates Forestry Department to participate in this prestigious exhibition. She loves all the flavors of Cabot Cheddar but admits she has a particular fondness for Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar.