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Teens set for Sea Bright homecoming party
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Teens set for Sea Bright homecoming party

Wielding sledge hammers, volunteers Molly Cohen of Colts Neck, left, and Elissa Masin of Howell get ready for the first stage of re-construction — demolition.
Wielding sledge hammers, volunteers Molly Cohen of Colts Neck, left, and Elissa Masin of Howell get ready for the first stage of re-construction — demolition.

A homecoming party on June 17 will mark the return of Desiree Pierce and her family to their house in Sea Bright 19 months after Superstorm Sandy. 

Teams of volunteers — including 45 “Sandy Teen Fellows” recruited by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County — helped restore the house at 19 New St., badly damaged in the October 2012 storm.

Festivities slated for 5:30 in the afternoon at the Pierce home will be followed at 6:15 by a Sandy Teen Fellows Rising Call to Action gathering at 8 River St., headquarters of Sea Bright Rising, the local nonprofit spearheading the town’s rebuilding effort.

“These committed teens have spent six months learning firsthand about the lingering crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy, through a Jewish lens,” said Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, the federation’s director of community engagement. “Turning their learning into action they have worked with Sea Bright Rising, volunteering to restore and rebuild homes for local residents.”

In addition to Sea Bright Rising, a nonprofit relief organization, and Sandy Teen Fellows, the restoration effort includes the Louisiana-based St. Bernard Project, a construction-oriented charitable organization formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the National Civilian Community Corps, which is part of AmeriCorps, a U.S. government service program.

Checkbooks, as well as hammers and paintbrushes, figure heavily in the effort. Sea Bright Rising is more than halfway to its goal of raising $2.5 million, according to Chris Wood, a cofounder of the group.

In addition, Temple Rodeph Torah of Marlboro has pledged to raise some $43,000 needed by the Pierce family for materials and licensed craftsmen, such as plumbers and electricians.

The Pierce house is the first of about 30 Sea Bright properties scheduled for restoration this year. Chad Carson, a staff member of the St. Bernard Project, reported that five home sites are now under construction.

“The Sandy Teen Fellows have made awesome contributions to all of them,” he added.

‘Boundless energy’

Performing tasks from general cleanup to demolition to mold remediation, the teens have accounted for almost $23,000 in labor savings in just a few weeks, said Carson.

“Every one of them has come to work with boundless energy and an obvious desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the Sandy victims,” Carson said. “They are also helping to remind the public that the Sandy story is far from over, and that is very important.”

Jenna Horowitz, 15, of Keansburg said she connected with Sandy Teen Fellows in part because her own family was forced from its home by Sandy and still has not been able to move back. “Our house had to be knocked down,” she told NJJN in a phone interview. “For a while, we lived with my grandmother and other relatives, and now we are renting in Aberdeen.”

Jenna, a sophomore at Biotechnology High School in Freehold and a member of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, said she has participated in three volunteer sessions so far, helping pull siding off a house — “It was the first time I used a crowbar,” she said — and also scraping floors and walls to remove mold.

Ben Cooper, 15, of Rumson and a sophomore at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, also came to Sandy Teen Fellows with a history of woes caused by the superstorm. “We’re currently living in Red Bank on a temporary basis,” he said. His family’s house suffered serious damage; it is now being completely overhauled.

Ben, whose family belongs to Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson, said he considered the contributions being made by Sandy Teen Fellows to be “very meaningful.” 

Raquel Rosen, 16, and a student at Marlboro High School, said she could relate to the needs of the Sandy victims because her family lost a Manhattan apartment following the 9/11 attack. “I was very young,” she acknowledged, “but I remember how people helped us out with donations of clothing and furniture when we moved to New Jersey. 

“Our family joined Temple Rodeph Torah, and the members were very generous and kind to us. Now it is my turn to be able to do something for others.”

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