Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.“I’ve been involved in community service all of my life…The most moving experience I’ve ever been a part was helping in the recovery effort after Hurricane Sandy.”—Michael Berthel ’08, M.A. ’11
Everyone in the tri-state area knows how hard New York was hit by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Long Island’s coastline was in ruins; residents’ houses, businesses and cars were hard hit; roads, beaches and boardwalks were wrecked.
When Michael Berthel, then senior assistant director for Adelphi’s Center for Student Involvement, woke up the day after Sandy in a cold apartment with no electricity, he headed to Adelphi’s Garden City campus. “I decided to come into the office and start reaching out to local agencies and community partners,” he said. “I knew when students came back to campus, whether that was three days or a week later, they would want to do something. Based on past events, from those that happen on campus to nowhere near campus, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, students have been really engaged. They want to get involved.”
Mr. Berthel’s goal was to set the groundwork on day one so that Adelphi would be in a solid position to help with relief efforts. Before Adelphi’s campus even reopened, he was able to start a blood drive and get a donation drop off set up.
The response he received was greater than he could have ever imagined. What started as 20 students helping expanded to 125 students and volunteers. The very first day, Adelphi received 13,500 items. “The entire lobby of the University Center was just packed with bags,” he said. “You couldn’t see anything but black bags filled with donations. It was unbelievable.”
Over the course of the next several weeks, Newsday listed Adelphi as one of the main sites for donations in Nassau County. “It wasn’t our initial intention, but we became that site for people,” he said. “We became a mini sort of FEMA.” Mr. Berthel said they stopped counting donations when they reached 40,000 items.
As a community, Adelphi raised more than $4,000 for Red Cross, donated 155 pints of blood, and wrote more than 300 thank you cards for first responders. In addition to Adelphi making deliveries to the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, which brought the items to regional distribution sites, including those areas that were so badly hit Adelphi’s team wouldn’t be able to get there, Adelphi also ran service sites every weekend.
Students, faculty, and administrators volunteered to help with the efforts in Long Beach, Bell Harbor, Oceanside, the Far Rockaways, and Breezy Point. They did everything from sand cleanup to digging out houses and driveways to removing garbage, clothes and furniture from homes. “It looked like a war zone,” said Mr. Berthel. “Emotions were running high. There were students who themselves lost houses and were coming with us, other students who knew people in the communities. Students were talking and crying with the people they were helping.”
“I’ve been involved in community service all of my life, at Adelphi and outside of Adelphi. The most moving experience I’ve ever been a part was helping in the recovery effort after Hurricane Sandy.”
Mr. Berthel’s work in the aftermath of Sandy is emblematic of the kind of leader he has been and service he has provided Adelphi through the years.
In his role at Adelphi’s Center for Student Involvement, he helped build commuter services, having developed a commuter assistant program in which incoming freshmen are paired with mentors; commuter appreciation week; and a commuter student organization. “It’s all about creating opportunities for students to feel connected, be involved, advocate for themselves.”
Under his leadership Adelphi’s Greek life experienced massive growth. “We added three new organizations and 150 members in a year. Adelphi has the largest Greek community on Long Island,” he said. “We are adding our 18th organization in September 2013. That’s unprecedented growth nationally.”
Adelphi’s community service and volunteer programs have also been strengthened through his efforts. The University’s 2013 Relay for Life program raised more than $44,000. He developed “Adelphi Gives Back Month” to bring together all of the work individuals were already doing across campus—blood and volunteer drives, letter writing for St. Jude, off campus Habitat for Humanity trips, visits to women’s shelters—to make an even greater, unified impact.
He has also expanded locations that Adelphi students travel to through the University’s alternative spring break program, an opportunity for students to gain experience working in a foreign country through service-oriented programs. In addition to Costa Rica, students have also participated in community-based work in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.
When Mr. Berthel traveled to New Orleans with students in January 2013, he saw these young men and women looking at the experience differently than they had in previous years. “Students were connecting this to the aftermath of Sandy. Suddenly they were thinking; it has been over seven years since Katrina and this is what New Orleans looks like. What will Long Island look like five, ten years from now?”
As a student at Adelphi, Mr. Berthel participated in alternative spring break programs, and just about any other student organization there was to join. He said it was exactly these kinds of programs that he was involved in on campus that shaped who he is and what he wants want to do in his life.
His dream job would be to be a dean or vice president of a student affairs department, contributing and working with students in a college setting. “I always want the direct line with students,” he said.
Mr. Berthel serves on the regional board for the Association of Fraternity / Sorority Advisors, as a Regional Counselor for Phi Sigma Kappa National Fraternity, and as conference staff for the National Greek Leadership Association Conference. A member of Kiwanis International, he is an advisor to 200 Key Clubs in New York State and is the director of conferences and conventions for these clubs.
He received the 2010 Adelphi University Alumni of the Year Award and, in 2013, was honored with the Adelphi University President’s Award for Excellence in Service.