By Christina Santucci
About two dozen former military men and women chose to celebrate Veterans’s Day by repairing Hurricane Sandy-ravaged homes in Belle Harbor over the weekend.
“While everybody loves a parade, we really love to get dirty,” joked Sam Kille, regional communications manager for Team Rubicon, a disaster relief veterans’ organization, which partnered with Friends of Rockaway and New York Cares for Saturday’s project.
In one house, on Beach 127th Street, participants installed insulation in the basement’s ceiling, sanded the walls and repaired a hole more than 2 feet wide in the floor of the main level, while several blocks away on Beach 134th Street volunteers coated the basement’s walls with waterproofing material.
Teams were also hard at work fixing up an American Legion post in Seaside Heights and helped out at homes that had been flooded in upstate New York, as well as several other sites across the country.
Kille described the efforts Saturday as “a fitting way to honor the day and what it means.”
Volunteer Lawrence Ksiez, a member of Friends of Rockaway and New York Cares, had been in the Rockaways since Sandy and estimated he helped to gut and muck about 100 homes on the peninsula and in Brooklyn.
While standing in the first floor of the Beach 134th Street home, he recalled removing water-soaked items from the house immediately after the storm and his reaction when he returned a year later.
“I didn’t recognize it from the outside,” he said.
The house, which the cast of the CBS show “The Good Wife” also helped to repair the week before, was close to completion, Ksiez said, with flooring, dry wall and molding still on the agenda.
But many other houses still haven’t been completely fixed.
“After Sandy hit, the main focus was here in the Rockaways,” Kille said, describing how Team Rubicon stayed on the peninsula for six weeks after the storm until larger organizations could get better mobilized.
The organization worked on more than 900 homes in New York and New Jersey after the superstorm left a trail of destruction in its wake Oct. 29, 2012, and saved homeowners $3.8 million in repair costs through its work, he said.
“That goes to show the power of a volunteer organization and what it can do,” Kille said.
After Sandy struck, people wanting to help flooded areas and Team Rubicon volunteers were able to assist with organization.
“They know how to take a group of people and give them marching orders,” Kille said.
Founded in 2010 by two retired U.S. Marines who wanted to assist in Haiti after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, the group now boasts a membership base of 12,000 strong and sends participants all over the world. Two people, who had been scheduled to attend the Rockaways project Saturday, were headed instead to the Philippines to lend a hand after Typhoon Haiyan.
“Disaster relief is our business, but veterans are our passion,” Kille said, explaining that the organization tries to bring a sense of purpose back to the lives of members after they leave the military.
“When you come home from that, it’s really easy to get lost in the system,” he said.
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-260-4589.