Like many New Yorkers, Rashawn Austin feels renewed gratitude for family, shelter and other blessings this Thanksgiving in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's devastation. (VOA/A. Phillips)
Like many New Yorkers, Rashawn Austin feels renewed gratitude for family, shelter and other blessings this Thanksgiving in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's devastation. (VOA/A. Phillips)

NEW YORK CITY - This year's Thanksgiving holiday falls just three weeks after Hurricane Sandy battered New York City, leaving thousands homeless or displaced.

Rashawn Austin’s neighborhood was relatively unscathed but loved ones elsewhere in the city weren’t so lucky. For her, the awareness of insecurity and blessing are paired this year. 

“A friend of mine sent me a photo of a spot where we used to sit at Long Beach maybe three months ago. The spot is completely gone," Austin says. "I think this year a lot of people are probably looking at the fact … that I am actually sitting with my family and we are all healthy and everything is good…. You know, in spite of everything… it’s a positive thing.”

Among the travelers packing the city's bustling Pennsylvania Station is Sandra, an out-of-towner on her way to catch a train home. She and three women friends came to the city without careful planning. She's thankful they survived some unexpected adventures getting here. 

Preparing to board their train home, out-of-towner
Preparing to board their train home, out-of-towners Sandy (second from right) and her friends are grateful they survived their unexpected adventures in New York. (VOA/A. Phillips)

"We rode in on Amtrak and we got dumped out in the middle of nowhere. Had no idea what we were doing," Sandra says. "We had never ridden the train and we were just looking around trying to follow the herd with all of our luggage. But we made it out of the train tracks, went out and got a taxi, rolled to our hotel, and once we got our bearings, we just rocked this city."

Up in Central Park, Jeff is having a ball listening to an ad hoc drum circle. He is thankful to be back in his hometown after 20 years out west.      

“And this Thanksgiving I am grateful for my beautiful healthy family that I am here traveling in New York City with," Jeff says. "We’ve been in Los Angeles 20 years, and we’re excited to show the kids the city and the fall and we’re having a great time.”

Jeff’s 10-year-old daughter has things she's thankful for as well.

"My family, because they keep me safe," she says, "and they make me feel special."

After Sandy, New Yorkers Give Holiday Thanks

At a popular sidewalk café uptown, New Yorker Jeff Ellenberger expresses similar feelings.   

“I am very grateful for friends who have put out helping hands in times of stress.  I came in here and was in a very dark mood and in 10 minutes this guy had me going again.”

“This guy” is Bob Mills, who is thankful he left a dangerous drinking habit behind.  

“I am grateful this year to be sober," Mills says. "I am sober 26 years and to have redeemed my life through 12 step programs and fellowship. The people I love. The love I can give. My health.”

After brushes with the law, street cleaner Rafael
After brushes with the law, street cleaner Rafael Romero is grateful to have a new start in life. (VOA/A. Phillips)

It is new-found freedom, following a prison term for selling illegal drugs, that has Rafael Romero feeling grateful this Thanksgiving. He's now a street cleaner proudly working for an honest wage.

“I am grateful for just being home and being able to start a new life. Being happy and not having to look over my shoulder," Romero says. "I am happy that I am being a different person, changed, and I am just looking for a new beginning."

Liburna Deva came to New York from Kosovo to pursue a graduate degree. She also hopes for success in life, and, like many, is grateful to America for giving her a shot at her dreams. 

“It’s unbelievable that I am here for only three years and I can call this place home," Deva says. "That’s what America does to you and I am grateful for that. A lot. Yes, it’s going to a good Thanksgiving, a lot to be thankful for.”

Some of the thoughts of gratitude that Americans will be digesting, along with their turkey and trimmings, this Thursday, Nov. 22, Thanksgiving 2012.