A Tiffin native has been able to live his dream of helping cities and their residents effected by disasters.
Richard Barga, a 1998 Columbian High School graduate and alumni of The Ohio State University, recently earned a master's degree in real estate development from New York University's Schack Real Estate Institute.
Barga said he always wanted to live in New York, as his mother and grandfather were from the city.
"New York is definitely different than Tiffin," Barga said.
After graduating from OSU in 2003 with a degree in world history, Barga spent his first few years on several political campaigns in the public safety and emergency management sector.
"With politics and the field of government I was in, I was more on the reactive side," Barga said. "I was on call 24/7 and always putting out flyers and cleaning up messes. I got burned out. I want to see (my life) be proactive. I wanted to build things rather than come in on the back end."
Barga took the lead in coordinating a volunteer effort by Schack students, faculty and alumni to help residents of New York who had had been affected by Superstorm Sandy. Barga and volunteers helped in hard-hit areas such as Coney Island and the Rockaways. They helped in organizing food lines and helping residents strip their homes of flood-damaged furniture.
Once the volunteers entered the area, Barga said it was as though they were in a scene from a war movie.
"It was a nightmare. There was helicopters flying around, the boardwalk was completely destroyed, sand was all over the cars. It was a very traumatic event. The people were very thankful that we arrived," Barga said.
Before coming to NYU, Barga said, he traveled to many cities and saw much of the degradation of urban cores. This led him to want to work in urban planning and real estate.
"My parents instilled in me great values," Barga said. "I enjoy helping others who have been through unfortunate circumstances. I've always been a champion for the little guy. It is just part of who I am."
In 2012, Barga and fellow classmate Genevieve Lee created a temporary housing plan for those who had been displaced by Sandy. They submitted the plan to NYU Schack Disaster Housing Competition, winning first place.
A student trip to New Orleans was organized and, while there, Barga conducted a research project on post-Hurricane Katrina property valuation and came back to New York to apply what he learned.
His project was published in Premises, a journal published by NYU Schack Institute.
After the initial phase of his project with helping Sandy victims, Barga and volunteers went to the harder-hit cities to form committee meetings to understand what each city's residents wanted for themselves. Several canvas groups were established to communicate with the victims to see what they still were lacking, such as power, housing or food, Barga said.
Barga has entered into a two-year contract with the city of New York to help with community development and affordable housing.
"Being part of this event and gaining the skills while working on these project has been really beneficial," Barga said.
Barga said he one day plans to return to Ohio, to Cleveland or Columbus, to be involved in helping develop stronger communities there.