NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson had watched the news, like everyone else. But until he stepped onto Staten Island, he never could've imagined the devastation that people have been living through.
Granderson, the Yankees' star outfielder, visited Staten Island on Monday as part of an initiative with his charitable endeavor -- the Grand Kids Foundation -- designed to ease the burden of families affected by Hurricane Sandy. Granderson, in conjunction with PricewaterhouseCoopers, donated 2,000 backpacks to local children and toured some of the still-damaged neighborhoods.
Some houses were left intact, he said, while others right next to them were torn asunder. Granderson also visited the students at PS 39 in Staten Island, and he came away from the event humbled and determined to see the local area begin to right itself by any means necessary.
"It just lets you know what things are really important," he said of his trip to Staten Island. "The home you've worked your whole life for -- family, friends, food, hot water. The bare necessities are really all you need. Everything else is luxury. That community over there is experiencing that. They're still very positive. They're very optimistic. They're going to come back. They're going to come back stronger than ever. If you've ever had a broken bone, you know it heals stronger than what it was."
Granderson got to spend time with the students, but he also got to walk around the community and to see first-hand what has changed and what has remained the same. He spoke with residents who have nowhere to go, and he saw how other people have pitched in and tried to help them.
"You see photos, video and you hear stories about different devastated areas, but until you get a chance to go out there and witness it first-hand, words can't do it justice to see a house that was barely touched next to a house that's completely gone," he said. "The community's out there helping out with help centers where you can get water and a hot meal. Generators are coming into the area, and you've got the police there. You've got different people helping out. And then the community, hearing their stories about how a lady had to swim out of her house because she didn't evacuate in time. Families having to run up to the top roof. Families that all they can say is, 'I used to live here. My house isn't here anymore.' But they're all coming back, and whatever issues you had before you put it aside."
Granderson started his Grand Kids foundation in 2007, and he did so in the hope of positively affecting the educations of youths around the country. The foundation has raised more than $80,000 in the last few years, and it found a fitting partnership in working with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The firm is making a huge investment in American education, and Mitchell M. Roschelle, a partner at PwC, said Monday that it's important for the company to reinvest in the community.
PwC has made a $160 million commitment to teach financial literacy in schools across America over the next five years, an endeavor it's dubbed Earn Your Future. Between now and June, in fact, its employees will spend more than 37,000 hours of community service teaching in the metro area.
"Community service is one of the most important things in the culture of our firm, giving back to the communities in which we do business," said Roschelle. "But when we think about it, youth education is important to the sustainability of our economy. Having well-educated, well-fed, well-nourished schoolkids means you'll have productive members of society in the future. It's very grass roots when you start with third graders. They could be our employees down the road. They could be employees of other companies or they could be clients, but a well-educated workforce is good for the economy."
PS 39 is just one of the schools that will receive backpacks donated by Granderson and PwC, and students in Coney Island, the Rockaways and Sheepshead Bay will also be part of the program.
For Granderson, it meant the world to be able to visit one of the schools and to help distribute school supplies, and he said he hopes the students get as much from it as he did on Monday.
"I consider myself a big kid, so to go back and be with the kids, that's always where I feel most comfortable. The cool thing that I picked out today was kids were so excited to get their backpacks, picking out their color," said Granderson. "I remember back-to-school shopping with my parents and that was one of the most exciting days of the year for me to get my school supplies and come in. And unfortunately, a lot of these kids lost some of that due to Hurricane Sandy, so the fact that we could come in and help pick right back up and get those kids back focused on school where they can have fun, be with their friends and learn about the things they enjoy, today was a great day for me."