APG company employees donate to Sandy relief

Employees at the Aberdeen Proving Ground office of New Jersey-based information technology firm Symbolic Systems Inc. – many of whom have ties to the Garden State – have helped raise $11,000 for Superstorm Sandy relief programs in New Jersey.

The money was raised through company-wide donations of unused vacation time through the firm's recent "Donate a Day: Work to Rebuild the Jersey Shore" program. The money will go to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund Inc., an nonprofit relief group which is chaired by New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie, wife of Gov. Chris Christie.

"We just felt as a company, it would be great to be able to do something to support the victims because so many of us do have roots in New Jersey," said Harris Siegel, a project manager in the Aberdeen Proving Ground office who worked with fellow employees to put the donation program together.

Symbolic Systems is headquartered in Summit, N.J., and its APG facility was established several years ago as part of the federal BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process which shifted many Department of Defense employees and defense-related businesses from Ft. Monmouth, N.J., to APG.

Many Symbolic Systems employees and top company officials – including the founder, President and CEO Frank Ponzio Jr. – suffered major damage to their homes and communities along the New Jersey coastline as a result of the Oct. 29, 2012 storm.

"I think everybody who lives in New Jersey was, in one way or another, affected by Sandy," said Florence Pospeck, assistant to company Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Sally Ponzio.

Pospeck works in the company headquarters in Summit, which is about 15 miles west of Newark in the northern part of New Jersey. Areas of North Jersey in the vicinity of New York City also suffered extensive damage from Sandy.

Symbolic Systems also operates an office in Tinton Falls, N.J., near Ft. Monmouth, as well as offices in Texas and Virginia.

Pospeck, who also worked to coordinate donations of vacation days, said both New Jersey offices suffered heavy damage from Sandy. The first floor of the Tinton Falls office, closer to the coast, was flooded, and the company headquarters lost power for more than a week.

Her own home in nearby Scotch Plains had no power for more than two weeks.

"I was out of power for 15 days," she recalled. "I was very lucky that I had gas logs in my fireplace; that was the only way I could warm my house."

Pospeck said long lines of people waiting to buy wood to heat their homes could be seen after the storm, and Sandy also wrecked the chance for many children to go trick-or-treating.

"For the kids in New Jersey, Halloween was done," she said.

Pospeck said she felt for those who lost everything to Sandy, and had to obtain assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration with finding shelter.

"Those are the people that really needed the help and I hope they're going to get it," she said, regarding the company donation.

Chief Operations Officer Robert Wheeler said there are about 25 employees at the APG office, and at least half hail from New Jersey.

"We are a fairly small company with a tight-knit workforce," Wheeler wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "Our employees here in Maryland saw some of their colleagues up north lose power for weeks at their own homes but still manage to get the job done. If they can set an example like that, we thought that giving back vacation days to help the storm victims would be the least we could do."

Some commute daily back and forth, others live in Maryland part time and return home to New Jersey on days off.

"We have a significant number who still have ties to New Jersey," Siegel said of his fellow employees at Aberdeen.

Siegel, who resides in Havre de Grace, maintains a home near the coast on the outskirts of Neptune, N.J., which had some minor damage from Sandy.

His wife has family who live in the Point Pleasant area along the coast. He said his family traveled to New Jersey last week and drove along coastal Route 35, which recently reopened after being closed for months after the storm.

Siegel there was still significant damage along the highway, which is typically used to travel the length of central New Jersey's barrier islands.

"It is still amazing how catastrophic it was, to see houses just torn apart," he said.

One APG office employee who commutes regularly is Amy Walker, a staff writer for the company who lives in Sea Bright, directly on the coast.

She wrote in an e-mail that she spent two weeks without power or heat, and could not commute to Maryland because of a gasoline shortage in New Jersey.

Walker noted her house was not heavily damaged, "and there were thousands of people who had it far worse than I did."

"Due in no small part to the generous support of efforts like Symbolic System's Donate a Day program, the spirit of the Jersey Shore never waned," she wrote. "It is rebuilding, and it will rise out of this devastation stronger and more united than ever before."

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