2013-05-16 / Other News

Volunteers Still Needed Seven Months Later

Photos and text by
Linda Steinmuller

Tom Murphy, Executive Board, Tom Murphy, Executive Board, Tom Murphy could be doing a million other things now that he’s retired from the Jersey City Fire Department, but, instead, he chooses to spend his days – and nights – volunteering with HEART 9/11 to rebuild Gerritsen Beach, which was devastated by Superstorm Sandy last October.

“I’m having the time of my life. There is nothing that I’d rather be doing,” Murphy said. “Although it’s almost seven months after the storm, the people of Gerritsen Beach still HEART 9/11. need a lot of help.” That’s why Murphy spent the past three months working tirelessly with HEART 9/11’s relief effort in the area – an organization that got its start from the ashes of 9/11.

HEART 9/11 is a totally volunteerdriven, non-profit disaster relief organization founded by William Keegan in 2007. Their mission is to alleviate the suffering of individuals and communities coping with disasters. Keegan’s idea was to use all of the knowledge and experience gained by the first responders who worked at the World Trade Center site, as well as valuable lessons learned from members who were involved in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to form an organization dedicated to rebuilding property following any future disasters.

Tom Murphy in front of HEART 9/11 trailer. Tom Murphy in front of HEART 9/11 trailer. Today, there are over 530 members, including fireman, police officers, construction workers, and surviving family members of those killed on September 11, 2001.

Right after Sandy tore through Gerritsen Beach, HEART 9/11 was on the scene, gutting over 147 homes and removing debris and floodwater up until the end of 2012. The organization returned to Gerritsen Beach in February and set up trailers for storage and office space on Gerritsen Avenue for the second phase of their mission – rebuilding. Murphy and the HEART 9/11 team install sheetrock and add insulation to battered homes that have already undergone mold remediation and were previously inspected by both an electrician and a plumber.

HEART 9/11 volunteers Darryl Morgan and Andrew Howell. HEART 9/11 volunteers Darryl Morgan and Andrew Howell. Murphy got involved with HEART 9/11 by accident – there was a severe flood in Tennessee in 2010 and the retired fire captain, who worked at Ground Zero for days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, traveled there to help police and firefighters from Local 140 who were victimized by the storm. He volunteered in the region for 42 days and was named an “honorary member” of Local 140.

Like many firefighters who seem to be handy by nature, Murphy has experience with construction. “I’ve been doing rip outs and installing sheetrock my whole life,” Murphy explained.

While Murphy was in Tennessee, he met HEART 9/11 Founder and President William Keegan. The charitable organization was there to rebuild the home of a New York firefighter’s widow (the firefighter died of cancer and his wife relocated to Tennessee). The two connected, and Keegan invited Murphy to help with relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Murphy, who is now an Executive Board member with HEART 9/11, has since made six or seven trips to Haiti. He returned from his most recent seven-day trip about two weeks ago, where he helped to build a needed firehouse.

HEART 9/11 partners with other organizations, like Purple Heart Homes, to build homes for wounded returning military veterans. Murphy was also involved with the recent rebuilding of a home in Connecticut for U.S. Marine veteran Manny Jiminez.

Murphy, who is married and lives in Jersey City with his family, spent many nights sleeping in the HEART 9/11 trailer and goes home to New Jersey to see his family when he can. Gerritsen Beach residents extend their hospitality to the volunteer by opening their homes to him. They generously allow him to use their shower after a hard day’s work.

And now, the generous folks at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church invited him to stay in an apartment upstairs from the church, where he has lived since May 1st.

HEART 9/11 is grateful for all of its volunteers who work tirelessly on installing sheetrock, insulation, and flooring to homes that have applied and qualified for their assistance. The organization also has retired military veterans who work with them, like U.S. Army Veteran Darryl Morgan and U.S. Marine Veteran Andrew Howell. According to Howell, “Being a site manager gives us the experience and tutelage to help the process of getting homeowners back on their feet and in their homes.”

But Heart 9/11 needs more volunteers. To the outside world, many people do not realize that the community is still suffering from Sandy’s impact almost seven months later. Everything may look fine when driving around Gerritsen Beach, but people are still displaced from their homes and the rebuilding process has been very slow due to many factors – insurance delays, bureaucratic red tape with agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), financial issues, and mold problems – the list goes on.

Although HEART 9/11 has laborers to help with the rebuilding process, volunteers are needed for various other tasks. “We need drivers to help transport material for us. The volunteers need to eat lunch. We could use volunteers to help us deliver food. And there’s always paperwork to be completed,” Murphy said.

“This is not going away any time soon. People are still stressed and searching for answers,” Murphy said.

To learn more about HEART 9/11, visit www.heart911.org or stop by their trailer on Gerritsen Avenue to hear more about volunteer opportunities.

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