‘A Future With Hope’ Still Rehabbing Sandy Houses With Volunteers
There is some positive news to report during this election season: a good story about good people helping others.
On Oct. 29, the area will mark four years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the coast, yet there are still many homeowners who are struggling with repairing their homes for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, faith-based communities from as far away as Wyoming are still sending their young men to do service and help those who have fallen through the cracks of recovery.
On Friday, four 19-year-olds, all Church of God Mennonites, were finishing installing siding on a home in Tuckerton Beach: Jack Warkentin came from Oklahoma, Drasen Koehn from Idaho, Marcus Schultz from Wyoming and Andy Boehs from Kansas. The four have lived in a home rented by Christian Public Services in Tuckerton Beach for almost six months in order to help this family and others rebuild.
The young men are farmers from family farms and communities and are learning construction from the contractors on site. They do not get paid; it is a service their communities provide as a sign of their faith and as a thanksgiving to God. However, they do get days off to explore and saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. “Awesome,” they all agreed.
Other church members from other communities were also at work on the Tuckerton Beach home. Mike Block came from Syracuse, N.Y., just for the weekend. Other volunteers are culled from corporations wanting to do community services, said Travis Evans, construction site manager from A Future With Hope, the nonprofit service arm of the United Methodist Church.
Evans said the owners of the Tuckerton Beach house were struggling, doing much of the rehab work by themselves, and did not have enough insurance money to raise the older home. But when they saw how A Future With Hope had helped a neighbor, they applied and were found eligible.
The neighbor was able to move into a new, raised modular home last Thanksgiving and held a public house blessing that was reported in this newspaper.
Evans said A Future With Hope has been rehabbing or replacing Sandy-damaged homes from the Highlands to Cape May.
Part-time workers find out about volunteer opportunities through the website afuturewith hope.org and local churches put the weekend workers up. In Little Egg Harbor, the Lighthouse Alliance is still providing beds and showers in its church on Route 9/Main Street.
Building supplies are either donated by corporations or paid for through fundraising efforts.
“We use local contractors for electrical and plumbing, and they are paid,” said Evans.
Lou Strugala is the overall director for A Future With Hope’s Sandy reconstruction in New Jersey. He is a Methodist minister, and Sandy Recovery is his mission. He was also a general contractor for many years.
He said at present, the nonprofit is assisting about 20 families with rebuilding and has completed about 255 since 2013. “A good many of them were in Ocean County; a lot were new construction. We just finished 55 homes in Atlantic City.”
Strugala said he has heard mixed numbers of how many homes still need to be rebuilt. “I’ve heard between 4,000 and 7,000; the governor’s office says 5,000.
“People have tried to do their own repairs, and after four years they still can’t go home.”
Strugala said many of these homeowners are still waiting to get back in their homes because of fraudulent contractors. “There are many more than haven’t been caught. I know of four contractors right now who are under investigation but not yet indicted; they (the state) just haven’t caught them quick enough.
“Meanwhile, people are trying to live in their homes under conditions that have gotten worse.”
A Future With Hope is still accepting applications from people who need construction help after Sandy. To contact the organization, call 732-359-1012.
“There is still much to be done, and currently we have somewhat of a waiting list,” said Evans. “We have done brand new construction and elevations, and rehabs like this one. We hope that many of our present job sites will be ready for Thanksgiving.
“We’re still looking for volunteers as well.”
— Pat Johnson