By Debbie Cohen
For almost two years, Doris Gresser, 73, and daughter Lorraine Burke, 50, contemplated if they would ever return to their Hurricane Sandy-ravaged home in Breezy Point, but last week there was a light at the end of a dark tunnel when they went back to a perfectly refurbished dwelling.
Mother and daughter were welcomed home by volunteers, friends, neighbors and family with a ribbon-cutting celebration, which marked the 100th home that has been rebuilt since Superstorm Sandy in Rockaway, Staten Island and the Monmouth County, N.J. area by the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit that helps disaster victims rebuild, and Zurich North America, a commercial property and casualty insurer.
Friends of Rockaway, a nonprofit started in the Rockaways after Sandy by residents, also worked in partnership with St. Bernard, providing more than two dozen volunteers to reconstruct the home.
“It was a joy to help rebuild this home and see the smiles on the faces of Doris and Lorraine,” said Angela Calabro, site supervisor with Friends of Rockaway. “It’s great to be a part of the homecoming.”
But there was no one more overjoyed about returning home than Gresser and her daughter.
“It was like a war-zone here after Sandy — destruction all over the place,” Gresser said. “My nerves have been shot since the storm and I wondered if things would ever come in place. But now I am very happy and grateful for the volunteers who helped rebuild and gave me new floors, walls, doors, new drywall and installation on the first floor of my home, where over 3 feet of water gushed through.”
Gresser said she did not have flood insurance and was only given $2,500 from her insurance company. She spent $30,000 of her own money to fix the foundation of her home and then her money ran out.
“If it wasn’t for all the volunteers helping out with their time and providing free materials, including new furniture and even a new skylight in the ceiling, I cannot imagine what my daughter and I would have done,” Gresser said.
Burke could not wipe the grin off her face, as she said, “When the storm hit, at first it didn’t bother me, but it started to get to me as time went on and we couldn’t go home. I am elated now and I want to celebrate with everyone. I and my mother have lived here for several generations, over 49 years.”
Jennifer Torneden, vice president and regional sales director at Zurich’s New York branch, says there are a lot of emotions when homeowners come home after everything is rebuilt.
“The Zurich Foundation recently gave $165,000 to SBP for Sandy recovery projects and a $3 million grant to support its Disaster Recovery Lab across the nation, which will help communities better prepare for natural disasters,” she said. “I’m really excited that we helped to rebuild this home and that the family got to come home to a beautiful place.”
More than 200 home rebuilds lie ahead for the St. Bernard Project as the area continues to recover, according to a statement from Zurich.
Reese May, director of East Coast operations for SBP, said in a statement, “This milestone of our 100th rebuilt home in the New York/New Jersey region is cause for celebration and also a reflection of the work still left to be done.”