Our family has been going to the same efficiency motel on the water in Wildwood, New Jersey for the last 20 years every spring. This year though was extremely needed as I needed to see the Atlantic Ocean without cringing as my community reminds me on a daily basic what Superstorm Sandy has done to my town. My oldest son meet us there from college so it was the start of a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend to relax and decompress. Wildwood crest and Cape May are amazing communities in New Jersey that have unique characteristics. Wildwood pier with rides similar to Seaside Heights and Pt Pleasant you can see from the distance when you are on the very wide beaches. Wildwood has the largest beach area in the state of New Jersey. As I look out over the balcony there was a heart drawn in the sand below which had extra meaning to me this year.

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Cape May is a beach community that has Victorian bed and breakfast homes that are painted with vibrant colors, horse drawn carriages and trolleys ride through the community and the down town quaint shops. It is one of my all time favorite New Jersey towns.

As I woke up on Mother’s Day before the boys did I watched the sunrise and decided to create a post on Facebook. As I was looking through the newsfeed I came across a post about a Mayors conference link to a blog post on More Monmouth Musing. As I read the blog post my heart was singing and my eyes were filling up with tears of joy. It had been on my mind and heart to reach out to Mississipi and see who I could speak to who understood what we were going through and what we could learn from them to rebuild and restore. I always say surround yourself with experts those that have done something already, learn the easy way instead of the hard way. I was planning to host the Sandy Summit in June and interview our mayors and organizations as well as experts in their field of recovery from a natural disaster and here this very group was coming here the following week.

Here is the excerpt I read and I knew I had to meet Kathleen and thank her for bringing this group to my New Jersey mayors to help my communities restore.

The Mississippi delegation, comprised of former Congressman Gene Taylor and former mayors Brent Warr, and Eddie Farve, , were being flown to New Jersey free on charge by Southwest Airlines. Their lodging is being donated by Dominique Ervin, General Manager, Hampton Inn of Neptune/Wall and Sal Cannizarro of Immediate Care Medical Walk In of Hazlet.

This mayors helping mayors project is the brainchild of author and former CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch. A Bay St’ Louis, MS native, Koch has dedicated herself to supporting survivors of natural disasters since Katrina. She is the author of Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered

When I got home I reached out to Kathleen and it was like she was speaking my language. Each and every word she spoke resonated with me as if she was reading my mind. I let her know that I would meet her at the beginning of the tour of our community and let her know I would also be taping the Mayors conference that evening for those that could not attend.

I drove up to meet them with Michelle Beauregard a New Orleans consultant that is helping our communities through the maze of grants, project management and compliance and Harry a councilman from the Mayors office of Seaside Heights.
We drove them through Bay head, Manaloking, Osbornville in Brick, Lavallette, Ortley and then Seaside Heights.
We meet with Mayor Akers and one of the first things he said was he was so appreciative of those that have come to help through the maze of uncertainty as we have never been through this before. Kathleen let him know she was giving him a copy of her book and he quickly stated he wished that a book washed up on the shores to tell him what to do right after the storm and was grateful for this wonderful gift of her book and also the peer to peer mayors meeting.

After we toured the boardwalk and saw how much progress was happening we then headed up to Union beach where the Mayors conference was. It was on the way up the Parkway that I reached out to a Real Jersey Girl community leader Cathy Murawski who stepped up when we hosted “Walk A Mile In Our Shoes” to raise awareness and get congress to pass the Sandy bill.
I asked her for a “Pink boot “escort through her community so that our Mississippi guest could also see the areas also affected in her community. As we parked the car I told Kathleen, Brett, Gene and Eddie that I was very emotional as I am just about to meet Cathy face to face for the first time. It is amazing the people I have meet that we have banned together for the same mission, vision and purpose.

We arrived at the restaurant that had the most amazing Italian food and amazing New Jersey hospitality. Even the restaurant guest were listening intently during the conference. They witness our mayors learning from leaders from Mississippi teaching them what to expect and how to lead us through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. They also stated that they will never forget those that came from Florida to help them and teach them what to do and wanted to Pay It Forward to our NJ leaders.

It was a successful conference and I could see a shift and empowerment happening before my eyes as I watched our leaders interact with veterans who have been down the long and at times hazardous road of recovery.

I let Art Gallegher who wrote the article that lead me to Kathleen that he gave me the BEST Mother’s Day gift and my heart was still singing. Kathleen signed her book and inspired me on so many levels. I am forever changed by this gift of kindness and I know that I have life long friends that if they ever want to come back to our Jersey Shores we will extend southern hospitality Real Jersey Girl style.

The Sandy Summit starting June 1st will include the recording of the mayors conference so that other leaders in our New Jersey communities can benefit from the words of wisdom from these wonderful leaders.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D) – Representative for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district 1989 – 2011. Taylor’s waterfront home in Bay St. Louis, MS, was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Afterwards Taylor, a fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Democrat, became an outspoken advocate for insurance reform authoring a widely-supported bill that passed the House but never made it to a vote in the Senate.

Mayor Brent Warr – In 2005, Warr was elected mayor of Gulfport, MS, at 68,000 the second largest city in the state of Mississippi. Seven weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit. Warr remained at the helm for the next four years, overseeing the city’s recovery. In 2006, Warr received the Urban Leadership Award from the Penn Institute for Urban Research for his “outstanding work on rebuilding and responding to disaster.”

Mayor Eddie Favre – Favre served as mayor of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi from 1989 – 2009, overseeing the rebuilding of the town of approximately 9000. Though its downtown is the highest point in the U.S. on the Gulf of Mexico, 75% of the homes and businesses in Bay St. Louis were heavily damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bay St. Louis recovered so well that in 2010 Coastal Living named it one of the top ten small beach towns in America and in April it placed #3 in Budget Travel’s “Coolest Small Towns in America.”

Author and former CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch. A Bay St’ Louis, MS native, Koch has dedicated herself to supporting survivors of natural disasters since Katrina. She is the author of Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered. She was sent to Japan by the U.S. State Department in March of this year to deliver her message of Resiliency and Words of Hope to the survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami of the second anniversary of that catastrophic event.