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Irene: Schoharie teacher earns national award for volunteer flood relief work

Saturday, May 5, 2012
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Schoharie High School teacher Martin Messner is being honored for his help with relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Schoharie High School teacher Martin Messner is being honored for his help with relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

— A Schoharie High School teacher has received national recognition from his union for his volunteer efforts rebuilding and insulating homes damaged or destroyed last year by tropical storms Irene and Lee.

Martin Messner is one of six “Everyday Heroes” announced Friday by the American Federation of Teachers. He will be honored at the group’s national convention in July in Detroit. The federation consists of 1.5 million teachers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, higher education staff and faculty, health care professionals, public employees and retirees from across the United States.

Messner, who is president of the Schoharie Teachers Association and a health and physical education teacher, was selected for the honor from among more than 300 nominees across the country, based on votes from union members, students, parents and colleagues. He has worked for the school district since August 2004.

Messner, 33, said he did it because “it needed to be done. The community was an absolute disaster, and we are still working on it, and it is still not over. It was how I was raised.”

Messner said the work was an offshoot of earlier efforts by the school district’s teachers. “We have been very active for the last three, four years in the community. We have focused on community service and outreach, and this was a natural thing,” he said.

Messner, who was born and raised in Rochester, is married with a daughter. He lives in Schoharie, but his home escaped flood damage.

The award recognized Messner for going above and beyond his duty by organizing hundreds of volunteers to help rebuild homes flooded when the nearby Schoharie Creek overflowed as the two massive weather systems swept through the area. He also is credited with organizing a volunteer effort to insulate hundreds of flooded homes within the Schoharie Central School District, which includes Schoharie, Gallupville, Sloansville, Central Bridge and Esperance. He dubbed the effort STAY — Schoharie Teachers and You.

The 100-member local contributed $10,000 and raised another $70,000. With the money, they were able to insulate 170 homes, churches and Main Street businesses. In a Daily Gazette interview last year, Messner said volunteers focused on insulating homes because few if any were in any condition to handle cold weather.

At one point the effort involved more than 300 volunteers from 100 different organizations, according to the AFT website.

Messner said on the website that he took action because the flooding created a nightmare in his community. “I can’t even describe how devastating the flood was,” he said.

An oil spill prevented travel and left the stench of diesel fuel that lasted for days; there was no power, and some homes had water through both their first and second floors.

Schoharie County sustained millions of dollars in damage from the floods, and the community continues to rebuild to this day.

Schoharie Central School District Superintendent Brian Sherman said Messner performed a “great organizational effort which consumed a lot of his time in addition to his teaching. It was a really, really nice effort.”

Sherman said school staff — including himself — and community members spent months on the insulation project. “The effort by STAY and the staff of the school district and that of other teachers’ unions was phenomenal. For the kids and the community, it was a great endeavor,” he said. “They did a beautiful job.”

Sherman said the volunteers had to stay with the project for months because they had to wait for homes to dry out before they could put in insulation.

Some of the houses STAY focused on belonged to families of students in the school district. “We have 140 students who were homeless after the flooding, and we are seeing a lot of activity toward rebuilding homes and moving back,” Sherman said.

 
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