by Susan Loyer, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press
SAYREVILLE, N.J. -- Rock star Jon Bon Jovi came home Monday, with a $1 million check from his band and a promise to his former neighbors that they had not been forgotten.
"My being here is not political, it's emotional because I grew up here," Bon Jovi told the hundreds in a crowd that had gathered outside borough hall and included Gov. Chris Christie and first lady Mary Pat Christie. He recalled how when he toured Sayreville after superstorm Sandy hit and was wondering how he could help, a resident told him to 'use your voice. Let people know that we are suffering.'
"I know that this million dollars sounds like a lot, but it is really just a drop in the bucket and I know there are people still suffering. But what I like to call the power of we coming together - that means you, me, us - we are taking a step today to rebuild lives."
Bon Jovi's $1 million donation to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, chaired by Mary Pat Christie, raised the total donations to the fund to $38 million. Bon Jovi, along with fellow New Jerseyans Bruce Springsteen and TV personality Kelly Ripa, serve as honorary advisory board members to the charity. According to its website, the fund has donated $10.5 million as of April 30.
Bon Jovi's visit to Sayreville was a homecoming for the rocker, who grew up in the borough and - as he reminded the crowd - went to school and met his wife, Dorothea, here.
"It is pretty cool to stand in front of borough hall 51 years later," Bon Jovi told the few hundred residents who came to see him. "I have to tell you that returning here is humbling."
Bon Jovi has been known for his philanthropic work, which includes opening the JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, N.J., where customers can pay for meals either through work or through donations.
In the immediate aftermath of the superstorm, Bon Jovi returned to this flood-ravaged borough to see the damage firsthand and meet with residents. He toured the borough again Monday, along with the Christies.
Weber Avenue resident Fran O'Connor reminded the crowd what it was like after Sandy roared through: "Families swam out out of their collapsing houses onto the street with downed power lines, floating debris and raw sewage. An elderly couple stood on their bed clinging to each other as the raging river filled their home and residents hung by their fingertips to their window sills waiting to be saved."
And she said that Bon Jovi's visit after the storm helped give the community hope.
"That day as we stood on Weber Avenue covered in mud and muck his heartfelt kindness raised our spirits and fortified us during the bleakest of times," she said. "We will never forget his compassion, his empathy and the aid that he continues to give the flood-impacted residents of the state of New Jersey."
Christie thanked Bon Jovi for the donation, telling residents that "despite all the enormous success and fame that Jon and his family have earned over the course of his career, they have never forgotten where they come from."
The governor promised the crowd that if they wanted to rebuild, the state would be there to help them. But if they wanted to leave Sayreville - this was the third flood that residents had experienced in three years - the state would be there too, to offer buyouts so they could move on with their lives.
To date, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved the buyouts of 129 flood-damaged homes in Sayreville. Another nine homeowners applied Monday.
"You are among the toughest, grittiest people that this state has to offer," Christie said. "I love Sayreville."
Donations to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund may be made by visiting SandyNJReliefFund.org.
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