2014-05-01 / Other News

Revitalizing A Forgotten Neighborhood on National Rebuilding Day

Photos and text by Linda Steinmuller

When Superstorm Sandy attacked the New York City coastline, communities like Coney Island, the Rockaways and Staten Island seemed to get all the media attention. Although Canarsie was hard-hit by the storm, residents have often felt “forgotten” while other neighborhoods were in the spotlight. Last Saturday, Canarsie got the attention it deserves when over 200 volunteers from Rebuilding Together NYC renovated nine homes devastated by the wrath of Sandy.

Rebuilding Together, a safe and healthy housing organization, rehabilitates the homes of low-income, elderly and veteran homeowners living in the five boroughs. Since Superstorm Sandy, the nonprofit organization made a commitment to renovate homes that were severely damaged by the powerful storm. That work can only be accomplished by the generous support of their sponsors and the hard work of committed volunteers.

The Canarsie rebuilding event was part of National Rebuilding Day, which includes tens of thousands of volunteers revitalizing communities across the country. Workers painted, primed, installed flooring and tiles, and beautified backyard gardens. The project also included installing solar lights on the exterior of 50 homes to improve community safety and beautification projects on the Avenue L shopping strip, including debris removal, plantings and two murals (see article on page 23).

June Fyffe moved to New York from Jamaica over 30 years ago. She told the Canarsie Courier, “I never saw a hurricane in Jamaica. I never expected to see one in Canarsie.” Fyffe’s home on Paerdegat 15th Street was flooded with almost five feet of water. “Everything was ruined. We lost three cars.” June and her daughter Sasha shared horror stories of contractors who came to the neighborhood and ripped everyone off. “They took our money and never fixed anything. “According to Sasha, the family reached out to a lot of organizations, including Rebuilding Together. “We were keeping our fingers crossed that we would be chosen. When we got the call, we said, ‘Thank God.’” Over the coming weeks, work will continue on the Fyffe home to install new kitchen plumbing and tiling in the bathroom, among other projects.

Mr. and Mrs. Robinson have lived at 1003 East 103rd Street for 17 years. Both in their 70s, Mrs. Robinson suffers from muscular dystrophy, and uses a wheelchair, and Mr. Robinson has limited mobility. Sandy dumped almost three feet of water into their basement. Once renovations are completed, the Robinsons will have a safe and healthy home that will meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards, including an ADA shower. New basement electrical wiring, kitchen plumbing, new cabinets, countertops and a sink are part of the extensive renovations to their home.

Edith Harris, a homeowner who lives at 947 East 103rd Street, said, “The storm hit me when I was sick. It was devastating trying to figure out how to rebuild. Rebuilding Together came out of the blue; they are a fantastic organization to work with.” Harris, whose home was flooded with six feet of water when Sandy hit, told the Canarsie Courier that construction manager Scott Terry has been a ‘tower of strength’ and a great support. “He went beyond the call of duty. If he said he would come to my house by 6 a.m., he would show up right on time – and he has a regular job too. He didn’t know me from anywhere and he came to help,” the grateful resident said.

Through the help of these thoughtful volunteers, Canarsie is slowly, but surely, on its way back to ‘rebuilding’ a neighborhood destroyed by a vicious storm.

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