A heartwarming ceremony on a cold spring afternoon marked the March 26 kickoff of Sea Bright Rising, an ambitious volunteer-based program aimed at helping rebuild residences in the town that was hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy.
Among those volunteers will be 47 Jewish, Monmouth County-based teens working under the banner of Sandy Teen Fellows, an initiative of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
The fellows will join with other partners in Sea Bright Rising, which is working in close cooperation with the Louisiana-based St. Bernard Project and the National Civilian Community Corps, an arm of AmeriCorps.
Mayor Dina Long told some 60 or more dignitaries, workers, and guests that after more than 16 months, thousands of families, including her own, are still displaced because “we were unable to get a fair settlement from flood insurance.”
The storm’s victims, she said, are saddled with the additional costs of rent for an alternative residence while continuing to maintain a mortgage, taxes, and insurance on their damaged homes.
Doing their part in the broad effort, the Teen Fellows were set to begin their service mission on Sunday, April 6, about 11 days after work started on the first of 30 Sea Bright houses to be brought back to habitable condition.
This first house, located on New Street, belongs to Desiree Pierce, a customer service representative with Jet Blue at Newark Liberty International Airport. Since the storm, which struck just two days before Halloween in 2012, Pierce and three adult children have been uprooted from their home, living in a variety of venues, including, at present, a nearby rental.
Long told the crowd assembled in front of the Pierce house, “While the rest of the world has moved on from Sandy, literally thousands of New Jerseyans can’t. Yes, the beaches are replenished, the surf is awesome, and the beach clubs look grand. But as we know, looks can be deceiving.”
The opportunity to help families like Pierce’s led to a flood of applications for the teen program.
“In January, when we opened enrollment in Sandy Teen Fellows, we had planned places for 36 volunteers, and 56 applied,” said Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, the federation’s director of community engagement. “We took as many as we could.”
Zack Rosenburg, a Louisiana attorney who cofounded The St. Bernard Project in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and who now serves as the group’s director, told the March 26 assemblage he was gratified to see such a strong turnout. Noting that the goal is to reconstruct 30 homes in 2014, he said, “Out of this disaster, a stronger, better Sea Bright will arise.”
Chris Wood, a cofounder of Sea Bright Rising, said the group has already raised $1.3 million toward an overall goal of $2.5 million. Even though much of the work is being done by volunteers, licensed plumbers and electricians must be hired, and materials also cost a lot of money.