Hurricane Sandy victims marvel at Carter Work Project ‘angels’

Tom and Marge Tindall had lived in their house on Staten Island, New York, for more than 50 years when Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed it in October 2012. This week, Carter Work Project volunteers have helped them finish rebuilding. “These are all my angels here,” Tom Tindall said, motioning to all the people who were putting in laminate flooring and finishing up drywall installation Wednesday. © Habitat for Humanity International/Scott KinkadeTom and Marge Tindall had lived in their house on Staten Island, New York, for more than 50 years when Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed it in October 2012. This week, Carter Work Project volunteers have helped them finish rebuilding. “These are all my angels here,” Tom Tindall said, motioning to all the people who were putting in laminate flooring and finishing up drywall installation Wednesday. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Scott Kinkade

STATEN ISLAND, New York — Family history runs even deeper than the floodwaters that wrecked hundreds of homes on New York City’s Staten Island in October 2012. Rebuilding has been slow and arduous, but many people in these communities have never seriously considered leaving.

“I was dazed and confused for about a week,” Stewart Chambers said. “But then I was ready to regroup.”

Chambers has lived in a house on Roma Avenue for 30 years, and it was his mother’s house before that. As a construction professional, Chambers was more equipped than many of his neighbors to handle the rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. But still, the sheer extent of the damage made him feel hopeless about ever getting back to normal.

This week, the construction cavalry arrived: Volunteers with the 30th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project are rehabilitating 10 houses on Staten Island, including Chambers’ home. After living in a hotel for a full year, Chambers soon will be able to move back into his own place.

“I was ready to give up,” Chambers said. “There was just so much to do. And after a while, you start to feel isolated. But then Habitat came, and I remembered that people have hearts. It feels good again to be home.”

Only a few blocks away, Tom and Marge Tindall had lived in their home for more than 50 years before Hurricane Sandy filled it with water. For the first few days after the storm, the couple spent nights in their car, parked right outside their house.

“We just couldn’t bear the thought of people coming in and taking the little that we had left,” Marge said. “We didn’t want to lose everything.”

Tom added: “I can’t explain what it feels like to see that kind of damage. I don’t think there’s a word to really describe it.”

“We were just in a daze,” Marge said.

Since then, the Tindalls — who both taught music lessons in their home before the hurricane — have stayed with their grown children and their families, as the slow work of reconstruction goes on at home. This week, their recovery got a boost from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

“These are my angels here,” Tom said, pointing to a bustling construction crew that was assembled on his small front lawn after a lunch break Wednesday.

“We had been so depressed,” Marge interjected. “There was a lapse of time when nothing much seemed to be going on. People would come in and measure (for repairs), and we’d never see them again.

“Then all of a sudden, Habitat comes in from, I don’t know, heaven,” she said, laughing. “And look at our house now.”

— Teresa K. Weaver

Playhouse build creates special spaces for San Jose children

Naomi Lindsay, 7, has a new playhouse thanks to Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project volunteers in San Jose, California. © Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra MillsteinNaomi Lindsay, 7, has a new playhouse thanks to Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project volunteers in San Jose, California. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

SAN JOSE, California — Habitat for Humanity’s newest homeowner got down on her hands and knees and crawled through her front door for the first time. Once she was inside, there was just enough room for her to stand up, and she smiled broadly.

Naomi Lindsay is 7 years old, and delighted with her new playhouse.

“She may never come out. She may sleep in there,” said her beaming mother, Dodi.

The Habitat volunteers who built and decorated Naomi’s playhouse gathered around and took photos of the happy little homeowner with their smartphones. “That smile makes all the work worthwhile,” said San Jose resident Donna Best, a community relations specialist with the Silicon Valley tech company Xilinx.

Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley is one of several Habitat affiliates that has a playhouse program. Teams of volunteers, frequently from corporations, sponsor and decorate a playhouse for a designated child, with the fee going to support Habitat’s work. In the Bay Area, Habitat helps military families by working with Gold Star Mothers, along with other agencies, to give the playhouses to children in need.

This week’s playhouse build was part of the Carter Work Project at a park in San Jose.

Elario Diaz, 5, and Santino Diaz, 8, were also excited. Both boys have autism and health issues; their father, Cochise Diaz, is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. They requested a house decorated with planes and rockets, which Sgt. Diaz loaded into his pickup truck to take home and set up in his backyard.

Marlene Storey of Carmel, California, has traveled to more than 20 states in her RV to build for Habitat. This year is her first as a volunteer for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. © Habitat for Humanity International/Preston MerchantMarlene Storey of Carmel, California, has traveled to more than 20 states in her RV to build for Habitat. This year is her first as a volunteer for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Preston Merchant

Amarpal Naranj of San Jose has volunteered to build full-size houses before, but he was taking his first crack at playhouse building. “The part I loved here was my child came out. It was very creative,” he said. Pointing to the house, he added, “That’s real blood and sweat there.”

— Phil Kloer

At 78, retired teacher keeps building as an RV Care-A-Vanner

OAKLAND, California — When Marlene Storey taught first grade, she and her husband, Herb, planned to become regular Habitat for Humanity volunteers together after she retired. She finally retired in 1999 after 43 years of teaching, but Herb had died two years earlier.

“I decided I was going to do it anyway,” she said, and she became an RV Care-A-Vanner. Care-A-Vanners are Habitat volunteers, most of them retirees, who travel from build site to build site in RVs.

Storey is 78 years old, but she won’t talk about her age with a work crew. “Not because I care about telling my age, but once they find out my age, they think I can’t do the work,” she said. “They say ‘Oh my gosh, she’s gonna be 80 years old; she can’t lift that!’

“Getting up on scaffolding and putting siding on doesn’t bother me. I don’t get up on roofs only because my daughters made me promise not to go on the roofs. But they didn’t tell me I couldn’t be on second-story scaffolding. I can still do it, and when I can’t, I won’t be here.”

After she finishes the Carter Work Project, she will drive her RV to West Liberty, Kentucky, to help rebuild houses that were wiped out by a 2012 tornado.

“I can’t help but think of my husband,” she said. “He would be proud that I am doing it.”

— Phil Kloer