Tuesday, June 17, was an auspicious day for 45 local teenagers — and a delicious day for the family of Desiree Pierce of Sea Bright.
The teens were the first graduates of Sandy Teen Fellows, a volunteer program initiated by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. The teens lent their muscle to rebuilding as many houses in Sea Bright as possible following the devastation caused by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
With the help of the fellows and others, Pierce and her three adult children are the first to move back into their home, at 19 New St., following almost 20 months of exile caused by the hurricane.
Before cutting a ceremonial ribbon stretched across her doorway, the 59-year-old Jet Blue customer service representative said, “This never would have been possible without the help of Sea Bright Rising, the St. Bernard Project, AmeriCorps, and the Sandy Teen Fellows.”
Sea Bright Rising, a local recovery effort that has raised $1.3 million — and has already distributed more than $1 million — partnered with the St. Bernard Project, a national disaster recovery nonprofit, and AmeriCorps, the national service organization.
Pierce also thanked Rabbi Donald Weber and the congregants of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro for their commitment to raise up to $43,000 to complete the reconstruction.
Temple members raised and donated $20,000, with the remainder coming from Hilti, an international technology company with offices in Edison. In all, Hilti donated $60,000 plus Hilti tools to the Sea Bright Rising Project. “We also had more than 65 local team members volunteer to help in restoring this area,” said Carla Biggs, the company’s manager of trade media public relations.
Critical of New Jersey’s government for delays in terms of Sandy recovery funds, Weber said, “We are grateful to the people of the St. Bernard Project for coming to New Jersey and helping us do what should have been done a year and a half ago.” He also thanked “the men and women of AmeriCorps for…giving their heart and soul to help people they didn’t know before arriving here.”
He expressed appreciation for the Sandy Teen Fellows, “who have worked here since this project began and their parents for driving long distances to get them to and from the construction site.”
“Today is a day of joy because the Pierce family is back home,” said Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, adding, “But the need is still great, and the work is far from over.”
Mike McCrea, director of construction for Sea Bright Rising, said work — ranging from mold remediation to structural rebuilding to painting and installation of kitchen cabinets — is currently under way at four other Sea Bright locations.
Natalie Nicole, who has lived across the street from Desiree Pierce for the past 13 years, said the volunteer phalanx made the Pierce home habitable in “half the time it took professional contractors to get me back into mine.”
Following a quick tour of the Pierce home, the crowd reassembled in front of 15 River St. for the graduation ceremony. Sandy Teen Fellow Rebecca Barabas of Fair Haven, linked the work to Jewish values toward social justice. Mia Malkin of Freehold marveled at the mold remediation accomplished by the volunteers. “Instead of costing tens of thousands of dollars, it was done for about $200 in total outlay,” she said.
Also lauding the teens was Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, the federation’s director of community engagement. Recruiting for the next cohort of Sandy Teen Fellows began at the graduation celebration, with several of the first-timers indicating they would be back.