“We call ourselves the best kept secret on Long Island,” said Joe Botkin, founder and vice president of Rebuilding Together Long Island, the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to performing home repairs for people in tough financial situations.
More than a dozen volunteers worked on West End resident Liz Treston’s Hurricane Sandy-damaged house on Wyoming Avenue on Nov. 29 to help her return home within the next few weeks. Treston, who has a spinal cord injury and requires a wheelchair, has been displaced since the 2012 storm flooded her basement and caused substantial damage to her home. After living in three different rentals and struggling to find a contractor who would rebuild and elevate her home, Treston found a contractor in 2016 who she said took almost $200,000 in New York Rising funds — and her own money — and abandoned the project, leaving the house unfinished and uninhabitable.
Treston later found another contractor who elevated her home, and in the spring, a group of local residents banded together to help their friend and neighbor finally return home. They rebuilt parts of the home and equipped it with accessibility features, including an elevator.
Rebuilding Together, which performs work at no charge to their clients, joined the effort about two months ago to ensure Treston returns to her home before Christmas.
“The whole goal of our organization is to keep people in their homes, safe, warm and independent,” Botkin said.
The volunteers installed storm doors and other hardware, placed adapters where there were wheelchair obstacles, landscaped the backyard, built a relief area for Treston’s service dog, Finn, and painted various parts of the house.
“The emphasis is on safety, health issues and independence for the people we’re helping,” Botkin said.
While the organization has more than 200 volunteers throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, it’s assigned to about half a dozen jobs on any given day, Botkin said.
“And our workers are all volunteer, so we’re always fundraising,” he added.
The volunteers were provided with a national grant, Botkin said, and the job was sponsored by Costello’s Ace Hardware, Lowes and Renewal by Anderson.
“I’m completely overwhelmed by the generosity of the Long Island community,” Treston said, “and the continued efforts of organizations that are assisting others since Sandy to return home.”
Rebuilding Together is no stranger to Long Beach. Groups of volunteers flocked to the city in the aftermath of Sandy to help residents dig out and rebuild their homes, volunteer Bob Wohlafka said. The organization has also taken part in the annual Race2Rebuild event, a race that benefits displaced homeowners and helps them rebuild after natural disasters.
“That’s such a shame that that happens,” Wohlafka said, referring to the alleged contractor fraud Treston experienced. “I know several people that are in that boat.”
Local residents coming together to help complete work on Treston’s house is exemplary of the spirit of Long Beach, Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford said.
“I think it’s wonderful and it augments and reinforces the goodness in people,” she said. “That you have these volunteers that are willing to give up their time, their talent and their energy to help bring people back home and to be able to live in their houses — I think it’s so important.”