By Sarina Trangle

Salvatore Lopizzo wasted little time flinching when he discovered Superstorm Sandy had decimated his new Rockaway Park non-profit in October 2012.

He seized on Occupy Sandy’s offer to transform the You Are Never Alone Community Center outpost at 112-34 Rockaway Beach Blvd. into a recovery hub for the peninsula.

“This place was totally wiped out. It was flooded up beyond six feet, so everything was ruined,” he said. “Two days after the storm or a day, I don’t remember, Occupy Sandy came in and asked if they could use this facility… I said, ‘Yes, this will be perfect.’”

Volunteers from Occupy Sandy, the protest movement Occupy Wall Street’s disaster relief network, helped gut YANA and rebuilt it, adding shelves and tables to supply surrounding communities with food, batteries, diapers and clothing.

Soon the operation swelled beyond YANA’s immediate reach and Lopizzo said outposts were established in churches around the Rockaways.

He approached a landlord across the street about turning a flooded-out building into a makeshift medical center.

Lopizzo said the nearest hospital was in Far Rockaway and no pharmacy on the peninsula was filling prescriptions. Mobile units set up by Green Peace were the only place people could find light and electricity to charge their phones.

YANA has since returned to its original mission of helping the economically marginalized find an upwardly mobile path and greening the Rockaways.

Lopizzo, 61, an Ozone Park native, said he sought to open YANA because southern Queens was saturated with mental health institutions and homeless shelters without having much help from the government in providing the social services these populations need. He said drugs also had a pervasive influence in some of the poorer neighborhoods and everyone could use a community center.

“We are trying to change all of that,” said Lopizzo, who now lives in Rockaway Park. “Our doors are open all the time.”

YANA set about helping people sign up for Medicaid, health insurance, food stamps and other government assistance programs.

It established initiatives to help women open day care centers in their homes, drivers acquire licenses and teenagers and young adults search, apply and interview for jobs.

As a respiratory specialist in the medical field, Lopizzo said he grew interested in environmental threats and how to build with more sustainable materials. This focus has influenced his non-profit, which runs several green initiatives. It runs a program designed to help licensed contractors boost their businesses by mastering the state’s energy efficiency regulations. YANA also offers orientation seminars on installing solar panels in homes and businesses and green job training for those who want to learn about energy-friendly construction, auditing and technology.

But Lopizzo said YANA has not been able to get beyond Sandy’s legacy entirely.

“There is still a big need from people who can’t get back into their homes,” he said. “A lot of them ended up in shelters and we’re trying to get them out.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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