Family's quest to revitalize town after Sandy prompts others to join in Print
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 -- 2:22 PM

'SquanStrong' volunteers Stephanie Graham, Maura O'Connor and Penny Kaye remove tiles damaged by water and sand by Hurricane Sandy from a residence owned by Michael Parziale in Manasquan, N.J., Dec. 1.(CNS photo/Jeff Metzner, The Monitor)MANASQUAN, N.J. (CNS) -- A Manasquan family's desire to bring new life to their hurricane-stricken shore town has prompted scores of like-minded individuals to join them in their mission of compassion.

Melissa and Chip Dayton, along with seven of their eight children, have volunteered tirelessly with the SquanStrong movement since Sandy's landfall Oct. 29 to revitalize the town and share their faith-filled surplus of compassion in time of need.

Manasquan townswoman Dana Connelly's request via Facebook for volunteers to conduct a clothing drive and town cleanup gained the attention of the Catholic family, eager to help their neighbors affected by storm surge from both the Atlantic Ocean and the inlet.

"But what started as a coat drive is now ... around the clock service to the community," Melissa Dayton observed of their ceaseless quest to rebuild lives in this community in the Diocese of Trenton.

A groundswell of volunteers cleans homes, visits the elderly, delivers hot meals, and counsels those whose homes were damaged or lost in the storm.

Seven of the eight Dayton children assist in their parents' daily labors for the town (little Ellen, age 3, is overwhelmed by recent events). The Dayton children serve as "personal shoppers" for residents looking for food or clothing donations, and Melissa's cell phone rings continuously as she matches donations with recipients in her efforts to revitalize the stricken shore town.

"This is a very serious calling," she told The Monitor, Trenton's diocesan newspaper. "There's a need and we are equipped."

Donations for the inspirationally dubbed "SquanStrong" organization soon outgrew a temporary base of operations, so Melissa Dayton turned to friends at Jetty, a local design and apparel shop based in Little Egg Harbor, who had created a hurricane relief T-shirt to raise funds for local needs.

A generous donation from Jetty covered rent at their new and larger office storage facility through February.

Prior to the storm, the Daytons had long been involved in secular and religious service to the community. Melissa, a portrait painter and Catholic artist, and Chip, formerly the manager of the now-shuttered Fort Monmouth golf course, had ministered through marriage and family counseling and youth ministry.

In response to a high teen suicide rate at their local high school, the couple, whose children range in age from3 to 25, began a nonprofit organization, "You Can NOT Be Replaced," which encourages the growth and strength of families and promotion of the irreplaceable value of each individual.

Melissa is studying in the Trenton diocesan Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry program through St. Mark Parish in Sea Girt. The program, which fosters spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral formation, is headed by associate director of the Department of Lay Formation, JoLynn Krempecki.

"They are a phenomenal family," Krempecki said of the Daytons.

"This family does it 24/7. They are an amazing example of what it means to be a Catholic Christian."

Weeks after the storm, Melissa Dayton still is amazed and gratified at the number and variety of people who selflessly donate their time to aid the people of Manasquan.

"We just recently had a group from Bergen County come down, we have kids on break from college, and some displaced families volunteer as well," she reported. The outreach dovetails with her work with youth both in the parish and secular settings.

"This can fulfill our family mission statement of encouraging young people to use their gifts and talents," she said.


Leslie is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.


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