Josh DeBartolo, 26, hasn’t cut a hair on his head since Tropical Storm Irene slammed into the Capital Region last August.
He likes to say that he puts the “hairy” in “Schoharie.”
“I came into town the day before the flooding, fresh from my little brother’s wedding, so I was pretty clean-cut back then,” he said in a phone interview.
In terms of grooming, he’s not so clean-cut anymore, but he’s doing a lot of clean-cut work as director of Schoharie Recovery, a nonprofit group that organizes volunteer rebuilding efforts.
DeBartolo, a Middleburgh native, said he refused to get his hair cut until he could get it cut at a local salon, J. Lacy’s in Schoharie, that has been closed for repairs since it was flooded Aug. 28, 2011.
“I started volunteering, and when people would ask me when I was going to get my hair cut, I would kind of jokingly say, ‘How can I get it cut when the hair salon in town is closed?’ ” he said.
That joke has evolved into a serious project. J. Lacy’s Salon is scheduled to have its grand re-opening on Tuesday, and DeBartolo has been advertising for a number of months that if he can collect $10,000 in donations for Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery’s Unmet Needs Fund by that date, he’ll get his hair cut for the first time in a year at the re-opening ceremony.
He’s collected $3,500 so far and is still waiting on a number of donations. All of the money DeBartolo makes will be matched through a challenge grant given by a number of sources he would not name. He said the details behind the grant will be announced Sunday at the Schoharie County Country Strong event.
The only person more excited about the project than he is, DeBartolo said, is his grandmother.
“Let’s just say that my grandmother has been very supportive of me getting my hair cut. She’s been pushing for my success,” he said.
John Poorman, chairman of the board for Schoharie Recovery, said that since arriving in Schoharie, DeBartolo has become the key person in the field with local volunteers.
“We’ve logged somewhere around 90,000 volunteer hours in the past year. That’s a big number, but if you break it down … that’s equivalent to 40 or 50 full-time jobs,” Poorman said. And DeBartolo is coordinating all of them.
Under DeBartolo, Schoharie Recovery has been to around 400 different properties and has coordinated over 15,000 volunteers. The organization’s focus is within the Schoharie Central School District, but they’ve been known to venture outside of it.
“Since April, Josh has been our one and only paid — and modestly paid — employee,” Poorman said. “His ability to work with a variety of different people and problems is incredible … Josh, I joke with him, is someone who rarely says no.”
Poorman said that director of the St. Bernard Project, Zach Rosenburg, who was a coordinator for rebuilding efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, called DeBartolo his “rock star.”
Poorman said that according to a progress survey designed by students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, students from Union College, and DeBartolo, 36 percent of all recovery efforts within the area was completed by volunteers. According to the same survey, 80 percent of people living in the area have received some form of volunteer assistance.
“The proof is in the pudding in terms of Schoharie Recovery and Josh’s record,” Poorman said.
DeBartolo emphasized that it’s the team he has at his disposal that allows him to do such good work.
“It’s been a lot of people working together,” he said. He cited the Loaves and Fishes cafe, which serves free meals to volunteer workers in town, as an example of a good partner. He also cited his fellow workers Dianne Enders of Schoharie and long-time friend Seth Brand.
Enders and Brand had good words for DeBartolo, despite his unkempt appearance.
“It’s a pleasure and a privilege … he’s very energetic and hard-working. We like to tease him an awful lot since he’s so young,” Enders said.
Brand has known DeBartolo for four and a half years. They worked at Goldman Sachs, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
DeBartolo left Goldman Sachs to work with a non-profit organization in Bangladesh and Cambodia. When his employer offered him a job in Denver, he took it and had all of his personal effects transferred there. DeBartolo was going to go to Denver after he made a pit-stop back home to attend his little brother’s wedding.
Then tropical storm Irene hit, and DeBartolo wound up staying. His personal items, he said, are still in a storage facility in Denver.
About the time that DeBartolo was getting his feet wet in Schoharie, Brand was living in Hong Kong. He saw DeBartolo soliciting for help in Schoharie over Facebook and decided to return to the states to join him. Now he works with DeBartolo coordinating recovery efforts.
“He’s a slave driver, he’s very dedicated. I just try to keep up with him,” Brand said.
DeBartolo said that the way forward was still a little hairy, despite all of the trimming that volunteers have been doing.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said.
DeBartolo added that only 25 percent of properties that were seriously damaged by Tropical Storm Irene are considered “complete.”
Those interested in helping can donate to DeBartolo’s “He Puts the Hairy in Schoharie Recovery” fund. All proceeds will go toward assisting those who suffered property damage in Irene. Donations can be given online at www.saltrecovery.org/donations.html, or checks can be mailed to Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery, P.O. Box 777 Schoharie, NY, 12157. In the “Message” box online, or on the “Memo” line of the check, “Scho-Hairy Recovery” should be written.