Jamaica residents get needed home repairs

Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Rebuilding Together NYC Exec. Dir. Kimberly George, NBA Cares Ambassador Felipe Lopez with representative of Allen Senior Center.
Photo by Rebuilding Together NYC
By Naeisha Rose

Hundreds of volunteers came together Saturday through the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together to fix homes for families in need in Jamaica. The event marked National Rebuilding Day.

Spearheading Rebuilding Together NYC was its executive director, Kimberly George, retired NBA player and NBA Cares Ambassador Felipe Lopez and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica). They worked with volunteers from all over New York and construction workers who donated their time and expertise to repair some of the lingering damage from Hurricane Sandy.

The people eligible for the service are residents who earn below 80 percent of the area’s median income, for instance, a single homeowner making less than $50,000 a year, or a family of six making less than $80,000, according to Rebuilding’s website. Disabled citizens, and individuals or families whose home has been destroyed or damaged by natural disasters are also considered for free repairs.

“National Rebuilding Day is one day when we come together and do a bunch of projects in the same neighborhood,” George said. “Jamaica, Queens, is not in the flood zone, but it suffered damage because of sewage backup and the high winds knocking sidings off of homes. A number of our construction work has been focused on Sandy recovery since it hit in 2012.”

While the area was not hit as hard as the coastal parts of New York City during Hurricane Sandy, the concentration of aging homes, often passed down to family members with low incomes, made it a logical location, according to George.

The Watson family — which includes Tyree, Yolanda, Tyree Junior and Destiny — were devastated when their home was flooded, but found hope in Rebuild Together.

“The damage that we received was to the kitchen, water damage, and water in the basement,” Yolanda Watson said. “Since Rebuilding came to help us, the house is amazing. It’s just not the same place, it’s great.”

At the time of the damage, Destiny and Tyree Jr. were teens.

“It was definitely shocking seeing the house in the condition that it was,” Tyree Jr. said. “I’ve been in the house since I was a kid. It was the only house I knew.”

Saturday was special for the elder Tyree Watson because it was also his 51st birthday and the repairs also helped mitigate his health problems.

“I am especially happy today,” he said. “They are taking out the carpet and I’m an asthmatic. Now my asthma has decreased as they take out the carpeting.”

Receiving help for her and her sister’s disability needs was Yvonne Shackelford, 49.

“I’ve been here 40 years,” Shackelford said. “My parents passed the house onto us when they passed away.”

Although Shackelford is disabled now, she wasn’t always. As she took care of her ailing sister, Cleo, she developed degenerative joint disease and heart disease.

“We needed to handicap the house for her,” Shackelford said. “I took care of her, and unfortunately she passed away in July, before I was able to get the house completed.”

While her sister Cleo was in rehabilitation for her medical issues, they tried to fix their home on their own and ended up with contractors that wrecked it, she said.

“They left holes everywhere. They destroyed the kitchen. We didn’t have a kitchen for four years. I couldn’t bring her home with the place like that,” Shackelford said. “Thanks to Rebuilding, they put it back together.”

One of the construction companies that provided personnel and equipment was Shawmut Design and Construction.

“We’ve been a part of this for some time now,” said Justin Poulos, a project manager. “It’s a great day to give back to the community. The reward is at the end of this, and it’s seeing the faces of the homeowners.”

Lopez, a former St. John’s basketball star, helped to fix and paint the Allen Senior Center.

“It’s an awesome thing for them to see the whole thing brand new with new furnishing,” Lopez said. “We’re definitely happy to be partnered with such a great non-profit, the volunteers and the socially responsible companies that came out to support the community. It was a great thing to see this come together.”

The NY State Affordable Housing Corporation, Sandow, Gilbane Building Company, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Guineans Association for Development supported the event, along with The Home Depot Foundation.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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