2013-01-25 / Community

Habitat For Humanity Helping Rockaway Rise

By Katie McFadden

“Let’s make this the best summer ever in the Rockaways.” That’s a big goal for Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, but as he and hundreds of Habitat volunteers have learned during the past three months while helping during the recovery process in Rockaway, Roxbury and Breezy Point, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Luckily, he’s not going anywhere.

Killoran has been in the Rockaways for more than 70 days with Habitat for Humanity. The group has worked on “more than 300 homes” throughout Rockaway, according to Killoran. During the past three months, more than 3,500 volunteers from different ethnicities, faiths and parts of the world have come out to help local residents during what Killoran calls, “the disaster of a lifetime for housing in New York.”

Habitat for Humanity of Westchester is no stranger to flooding disasters. They helped repair more than 200 houses that were ruined by severe flooding in New Rochelle, Mamaroneck and other parts of Westchester in 2007.

“We’ve gone through this, so we got a good system going,” Killoran said.

While in the Rockaways, Habitat volunteers have been gutting houses, getting dirty in tight crawl spaces, providing and installing supplies like sheet rock, insulation and other materials, cleaning up the interior and exterior of homes, and bringing smiles to local residents.

They’ve helped police officers, war veterans, single mothers, the elderly, the disabled and the totally devastated to get back on their feet again and go back to homes that were completely unlivable in the first few weeks after Sandy.

In addition to homes, they’ve helped gut out and start to repair three businesses, three African-American churches and other houses of worship, such as the one that they’re currently calling home.

The Christ Community Church in Breezy Point is the main command center for Habitat and has served as a home to dozens of long-term volunteers who have been sleeping on the hardwood floors of a room they helped gut out themselves. In between hours of work, the volunteers meet back at the church to take a break, talk, laugh and enjoy meals with like-minded individuals who came out to donate their time.

One of the volunteers that they welcomed with open arms is Roxbury resident, Ellen Healy. When Habitat encountered Healy, she was absolutely devastated as her home had completely flooded when her windows imploded and she was dealing with severe pain due to an injury.

Habitat helped turn Healy’s home into a more livable environment and now, as a volunteer, she proudly calls herself a member of Habitat for Humanity.

“This is a wonderful place to get happy,” Healy said. “Nothing can make you feel better than to give back.”

Some volunteers have been around for months, some for the past few weeks, and others were just starting on Martin Luther King weekend when they heard that they could offer their assistance to Habitat for Humanity, but they all seemed to have the same thought about what they’ve seen during their time on the peninsula.

“You don’t know it’s that bad until you get out here,” Theresa Dember-Neal, a nurse from Copiague who recently started volunteering on the weekends said. “I couldn’t believe the devastation. I don’t think people really know how much help is needed here.”

Continuous help is what Habitat for Humanity is looking for most. While supplies and monetary donations are very useful, their biggest necessity is manpower.

Killoran is hoping more young people will volunteer and pick up a few skills about building houses. Erika Lee, a managing director in global capital markets, learned many new things while volunteering for several weeks.

“You’re not only helping, you’re learning,” Lee said.

Killoran has a special day in mind for local volunteers to come out in waves.

“For St. Patrick’s day, I want to call for every Irish contractor, plumber, sheet rocker and all other volunteers to donate a day out of their lives in honor of St. Patrick,” Killoran said. He calls the movement “The First Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day Build.”

With the New York City parade falling on Saturday, March 16, Killoran hopes the Irish, and those who pretend to be Irish for the day, will lend their time and skills on Sunday, March 17.

While many volunteer groups left the peninsula after the holidays, Killoran promises that Habitat for Humanity is in it for the long run.

“I’m not leaving. When you suffer with people, when you get to know their families, when you’re here to bring hope, how can you leave that?” Killoran said. “Out of tragedy comes great things. Rockaway will rise again.”

If you’re in need of assistance from Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, or if you want to become a volunteer, contact them at relief@habitatwc.org. Donations can also be made at habitatwc.org

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