Kim Nalepinski and Serena Gagliotti, two ladies from the East End that moved to St. John USVI, lost everything when the hurricanes hit.
The East End community has rallied behind the duo and on Thursday, November 9, Nancy Atlas & Friends (Atlas' full band, David Giacone, Inda Eaton, Telly Karoussos, Sarah Conway, Bosco Michne, Lynn Blumenfeld and David Portocarreo) will headline a benefit concert at the Stephen Talkhouse that will support Nalepinski and Gagliotti. You can also donate to Kim Nalepinski's GoFundMe page here: www.gofundme.com
"Nancy is a real old friend of mine and she wanted to help out and do a fundraiser," Kim Nalepinski explained. "She knows Serena a little bit, so she said, 'Let's help both of you girls.'"
Before the hurricane hit, Nalepinski already had plans to leave the island. "Every September I come up here to visit friends and family, usually there's the Great Peconic Paddle Board Race - that I do - so I was already coming here," she explained. Nalepinski originally thought it was just going to be a minor storm, but once it started picking up steam, she changed her ticket to leave a few days earlier. "At the last minute I brought my dog because I heard the word possible hurricane," she said. Gagliotti, on the other hand, who lived there with her dad and two dogs stayed.
"My boyfriend stayed and says I'm lucky to have not been there. He doesn't wish that on me," Nalepinski shared. "But, it was also difficult to watch from here because for almost 48 hours I couldn't find out if he was alive, if Serena was alive. We watched the eye of the storm just go over our island - it was a category 5 ++ - they never had a number for that before."
When they finally did hear from loved ones it was such a relief. "A couple of days after the storm, satellite phones were going around there and I found out my boyfriend was okay and it took a little longer to hear from Serena," she said.
Nalepinski's boyfriend and Gagliotti, her father and her dogs left the island between Irma and Maria.
"I'm staying with my family. Serena, her dad and her dogs are staying with her family in Amagansett," Nalepinski noted. "We're all just trying to work a bit and get some stuff organized - there's FEMA and insurance and all these things that you never think about because you don't think you're going to have to leave so quickly or not be able to go back."
Since Nalepinski was renting on St. John, she's not sure if she'll move back. "The thing is I don't own anything there and I never did so my apartment was a rental. A door blew open and it just creamed all my belongings, like pulverized things. My boyfriend saved a couple of items; he brought a bin to a friend's house. After that I had to just let my landlord clean the place out after FEMA came, they came and assessed the damage," she said. "There's just mold and all that stuff, so they had to get it cleared out. My car is totaled at the bottom of the yard. I worked at the vet clinic, I was a manager there, and right now they're all working very hard but it's a skeleton crew because there's not much money coming in. If I went back, I'd have no place to live or a car, so I can't plan on that at the moment. I really have to wait and see."
But, Gagliotti and her dad, owned their house. "I lived there seven years and Serena lived there maybe 15," she noted.
It was a trip to see Gagliotti that inspired Nalepinski to move to St. John. "I just visited Serena, I saw her pictures online - I had been friends with her since high school. I been living in the City, and had decided to move back here seven years ago and I was just having a tough time out here - a bunch of unfortunate things happened in a row - so I went to visit her and it was so magical and beautiful," she explained. "People befriended me immediately without even really knowing me. There were just really warm people, there's a lot of people from Montauk who have second homes there, so I had a lot of connections and the neighborhood that I lived in, Coral Bay, reminded me so much of Montauk in the 70s when I was a little kid. Just this artsy area, a little hippy, which Montauk was - I know it doesn't seem like it now, but it really was."
After her time in the Big Apple, the Caribbean culture was a refreshing change. "It was so the opposite of New York City, very small, we wave at people when we drive by, people help each other. If you get a flat tire there's like 25 people stopping to help you," Nalepinski shared. "It was just what I felt like I needed and I created a whole life there."
She embraced the island, entering paddleboard races, learning how to dive, and spending ample time swimming in that tranquil Caribbean ocean. "It really just felt like another home. People say the island accepts or rejects you, some people move there and just nothing will go right, and I moved there and everything fell into place," she said.
But, with everything that's happened, she's accepted the fact that she'll be living on the East End for a while. "Now, I feel like everything's falling into place to be supported and be okay," she shared. "I guess I've got to roll with the punches and it's a natural disaster so you can't blame anyone."
"I grew up in East Hampton, I went to Springs School and East Hampton High School, and I have a ton of friends out here and my parents and I just feel like out here I can be supported and get everything together," Nalepinski said. "I want to go visit at least, but because I have nowhere to go it's a really unusual feeling to live somewhere one day and then get on a plane to go on vacation and you can't go back."
When asked what it meant to have the East End's support now that she's home, she got choked up. "Even just you saying that makes me really super emotional. People are being incredible," she said. "The fact that my mom got about 40 donations in the past four days for a Chinese auction and she's walking around with the newspaper article last month that was in the Star
and she's got the posters and people are either like, "Oh my goodness, that's your daughter?" Or they know me. Everyone is glad I'm safe, so willing to help."
The community's response has been overwhelming. "This place has always been home, it's always been special, but I haven't really ever had to rely on the whole community, never. You reach out to the community and everybody's here. Tonight, I don't know if I'll have a dry eye," Nalepinski said. "Here's the thing, I grew up here and I'm so happy I didn't grow up in the middle of nowhere because some people don't want to go back to live in their hometown. Mine is so amazing, so beautiful, so sophisticated, but also warm and nurturing and caring - it felt so good that the thing I was seeking on St. John, I also have here. I'm really excited for tonight because there's going to be so many people I haven't seen in such a long time and people I haven't met that I've been talking to online."
"There's so much going on, there's so many people suffering. The last two months have been fundraiser after fundraiser, yet people aren't complaining," Nalepinski noted. "They're like okay, we're going to help. It's really heartwarming and it makes me feel amazing."
She's so grateful in particular to Atlas and those who helped arranged this event. "Nancy, over a month ago, called me up and was like, 'I'm going to help you. Don't you worry.' We've been friends since we were like 16; it just means everything to me. I'm so thankful to Nancy and Ellen Dioguardi and the East End community for doing this," Nalepinski expressed. "And my mom, Fran Donovan, she has been so passionate about getting this together, running around, talking up a storm to everyone and the passion she has for helping me and Serena and letting people know what's happening in St. John, I couldn't do it without my mom. She's amazing."
Admission to Nancy Atlas & Friends Hurricane Benefit To Help Serena & Kim
is $20. The evening will also include a 50/50 raffle, Chinese auction and the chance to meet Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons residents who were displaced from their home in Puerto Rico.
Stephen Talkhouse is located at 161 Main Street in Amagansett. For more information, visit stephentalkhouse.com. You can also donate to Kim Nalepinski's GoFundMe page here: www.gofundme.com.