2013-06-28 / Community

Red Cross Donates Big Money To Friends Of Rockaway

By Katie McFadden

“Let’s go rebuild some homes!” That’s what Friends of Rockaway founder, Michael Sinensky exclaimed after the group received a large grant from the American Red Cross. The money will allow the Sandy relief group to rebuild dozens of homes while employing local unemployed residents.

On Monday, June 24th, Friends of Rockaway (FOR) was presented with a $721,000 grant from the Red Cross. The group, which has spent the last eight months helping residents who were impacted by Sandy, will now be able to continue their work and rebuild about 80 homes for low- and moderate-income homeowners due to the grant.

"We're excited to be working with the American Red Cross to rebuild our community,” said Sinensky. “It is further proof of the Red Cross commitment to not only relief efforts, but rebuilding and resiliency. The Rockaways are forever grateful for their generosity and hard work."

Josh Lockwood, regional CEO, American Red Cross Greater New York Region said that Red Cross volunteers recognized the work that Friends of Rockaway was doing in the months after Sandy and they brought it to his attention. He met with Sinensky and they discussed plans for recovery and rebuilding. Friends of Rockaway then submitted a proposal to the Red Cross, requesting financial assistance, and the group was awarded the grant. Lockwood appreciated the fact that Friends of Rockaway works with all parts of the peninsula, from Far Rockaway to Breezy Point.

“We were excited that their focus grew to include the entire peninsula,” Lockwood said. “We wanted to help a group that would have the greatest impact.”

With the Red Cross grant and another $750,000 grant that FOR received from the Mayor’s Fund Housing Consortion, the group will be able to restore approximately 170 homes over the next few years.

The grants will also allow the group to employ locals. “It’s been a huge importance for us to make sure jobs go local,” Sinensky said. The group has trained unskilled locals who were unemployed. They will continue to keep these people employed over the next year and they are also looking to hire a few local licensed carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

Friends of Rockaway has already impacted thousands across the peninsula in various ways. Over the last eight months, the group has cleaned out more than1,000 homes in the area, gutted and mucked out approximately 400 homes and is contracted to perform mold remediation for 130 homes. They’ve also started helping homeowners with the rebuilding stage. One of their clients, Nigel Ramjassingh of Far Rockaway, is grateful for the group. “They helped me so much. I feel blessed with what they’ve done for me so far,” he said.

Ramjassingh tried to hire a contractor, but after being told that he would have to pay more than $31,000 plus taxes and fees to do the work, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to afford it, especially as he is still in a battle with his insurance companies to get the proper funding.

With a recommendation from a neighbor, he reached out to FOR about two months ago. Ramjassingh said that Todd Miner, FOR director, told him that FOR could build a brand new home for the quote that the contractor was trying to give him. The group did an intake and immediately started work on his home the next day and has been working there three days a week ever since.

Ramjassingh said the group has replaced sheet rock, spackled and is now finishing up with the painting of the interior of his home and he is pleased with the results. “They’ve done a very good job so far. You would think it was professional contractors,” he said.

He would recommend FOR to others. “I want to get the word out there that these people do a good job. I’m so thankful,” Ramjassingh said. “I would recommend them to neighbors and friends. They’re honest, hardworking people.”

FOR was founded by Rockaway natives Michael Sinensky, Evan Abel, Chris Miles, Etan Fraiman, Joe Fraiman, Jordon Brown, Danny Brown and Melissa Sorger in the early days following Sandy.

Sinensky explained his decision to start the group. “When you grow up in Rockaway, you truly understand what community and neighbor means. You say hi to every single person whether you know them or not. It’s that sense of community that I want my kids to understand. I never want to put them in a situation where they can’t go to Rockaway to visit their grandparents because of a storm. I want other generations to experience what we got to experience,” he said.

Sinensky is the owner of several establishments around Manhattan such as Hudson Terrace, Village Pourhouse, SideBAR, Little Town and House of ‘Que. He has held FOR fundraisers at his businesses and will continue to do so at his new property, Tres Carnes, for which he’s planning a “Building with Burritos” fundraiser. Money spent on burritos will go towards FOR.

Sinensky noted that the Red Cross has helped FOR since the storm occurred. The Red Cross gave them relief supplies like blankets, cots, water and ready-to-eat meals in the early days after Sandy.

The Red Cross grant comes after it was revealed in late May that the group hadn’t spent more than a third of the $303 million that it raised for storm recovery. Lockwood says that the Red Cross is continuing to support various nonprofit groups and will announce more grants in the next few weeks.

“We met with a number of groups and we’re looking to support the recovery efforts in Rockaway and Queens,” Lockwood said. The Red Cross has also given money to food banks across New York, Operation Hope to provide assistance and financial counseling to survivors, support for a mold remediation program to help New York residents clean up their homes and a grant to the Brooklyn Community Foundation. The group also has a Move-In-Assistance program in which they help individual families who are making the move from temporary to permanent housing in New York and New Jersey,” Lockwood added.

If you need assistance from Friends of Rockaway for gutting and mucking, mold remediation or rebuilding, call 347-625-7419 or visit www.friendsof rockaway.org.

Eligibility includes primary residency, ownership, income eligibility and a sustainable plan to stay in Rockaway.

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