2013-05-23 / Other News

Volunteer Spirit Is Contagious In Gerritsen Beach

By Linda Steinmuller

HEART 9/11 volunteers Lauren Feinberg and Joe Cook. HEART 9/11 volunteers Lauren Feinberg and Joe Cook. Seven months after Superstorm Sandy, Gerritsen Beach residents struggle to rebuild their homes and lives, and some are still not living in their homes.

“It’s a waiting game,” says Jim Mooney, a lifelong resident of the storm-ravaged community, who recently moved back into his Frank Court home, where he lives with his daughter, Jaclyn.

Countless volunteers, including individuals and charitable organizations who helped remove debris, gut homes, and install insulation and sheetrock throughout the neighborhood, moved the process along – but who knows how much longer it would have taken without their efforts?

Fortunately, the volunteer effort in Gerritsen Beach is alive and well – and the spirit of volunteerism seems to be contagious.

Take the Ostrander family (Aleta, her husband Mike, and their son Michael) from Hatboro, Pennsylvania. They recently helped build a firehouse in Haiti with HEART 9/11 Executive Board member, Tom Murphy. “When Tom told us that HEART 9/11 had 100 homes in Brooklyn to repair, we wanted to help,” Aleta said.

Jim and Jaclyn Mooney in front of their Frank Court home. Jim and Jaclyn Mooney in front of their Frank Court home. “It was like a reality check when we returned from Haiti. After building a firehouse in five days, I realized that there is nothing you can’t accomplish as a team,” Aleta said. As a result, the Ostranders made a trip to Gerritsen Beach this past weekend to help install sheetrock and insulation in Mooney’s home.

Volunteering forms a special bond among relief workers and the Ostranders were looking forward to working with the HEART 9/11 team again. “You become a family; we’re bringing the family back together again,” Aleta said.

The volunteer spirit spread to Lauren Feinberg, a physical therapist from Philadelphia and Aleta’s coworker — and she now volunteers with HEART 9/11.

The Ostrander family (left to right): Michael, Mike and Aleta. The Ostrander family (left to right): Michael, Mike and Aleta. “When Aleta told me about a prior trip she took to Haiti with the organization, I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. I joined the team in Haiti for a week in April to help build the firehouse. After Haiti, I knew I wanted to help do something in the U.S. Tom Murphy told me about all of the homes that were destroyed in Gerritsen Beach and invited me to assist,” Feinberg said.

Jim Mooney was born and raised in Gerritsen Beach. When Superstorm Sandy hit last October, it left 3 1/2 feet of floodwater in his Frank Court home. The house is one foot below street level and has a crawl space below the first floor; subsequently, the rushing storm water ruined the house’s foundation.

“Whatever we could take, we threw upstairs in the bedrooms. I have a nephew who lives on the next block — Nova Court. We evacuated to his house because it is on higher ground and stayed there until the middle of May. We eat there every day because we still don’t have a kitchen,” Jim explained.

It’s been a long road to recovery for the Mooneys. They had to wait three months for a contract consultant because there were so many jobs ahead of them. “We didn’t have flood insurance and got a minimal amount from our homeowner’s insurance. Then, we had to buy a car since that was destroyed too. But, I am so grateful for all of the help we received,” Jim said. “I appreciate the assistance we received from FEMA and the $10,000 grant from New York State. Tunnels to Towers was so gracious to give us a $500 gift card from a local hardware store.”

A grateful Jim said, “We saved so much money thanks to the volunteers. Rapid Repairs replaced the electrical panels and a NYC agency did mold remediation. Then, we signed up for HEART 9/11. They’ve been here three times and are finishing up the sheetrock and insulation.”

“Gerritsen Beach is a tight-knit community – we all rallied around each other. People helped me and I helped others,” Jim explained. “We formed our own posse and went from house to house, helping people haul debris and furniture out of their homes. I have a friend who is retired from the DEP, and we helped another resident with their hot water.”

“I’m a die-hard Gerritsen Beach person. I was born here, I will die here. I will not leave this community,” Jim said. Jim’s daughter, Jaclyn recalls the day of the storm vividly. When their home was flooded, she swam around the corner to her cousin’s house. “Neighbors gathered at my cousin’s home. We had 10 adults, six kids under five years old, and three dogs there.”

Jaclyn swam down the street to rescue a woman who was trapped in her house with two small children — a five-year-old and a three-year-old. Then, she was about to swim to help an elderly family, but electrical wires fell — making it too dangerous for her to attempt the rescue.

“It was 197 days before I was able to sleep in my own bed again and not on a twin-sized air mattress between my niece’s crib and dresser,” Jaclyn said.

Jaclyn, a psychology extern at Coney Island Hospital, says that her training helped her and gave her a different perspective on how to deal with people suffering from the storm. In addition to the busy student’s hectic schedule (she’s working on her doctorate at St. John’s University), she found time to work for Project Hope on Long Island from November through February. Her computer was destroyed by Sandy – along with 5 1/2 months of research for her dissertation, which took Jaclyn six weeks to recreate.

But Gerritsen Beach residents remain strong. According to Jim, “You fend for yourself and do whatever you have to do.”

To learn more about HEART 9/11, visit www.heart911.org.

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