Posts Tagged ‘Midland Beach’

From the Shadows to the Light – Undocumented Family Rebuilds Their Life

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

By Teresa Santiago

When Hurricane Sandy began assaulting the Midland Beach area of Staten Island, Jesus Maria Aguilar, his wife Patricia and son Allan did not imagine the devastation that it would leave in its wake.

They lived in Midland Avenue right in the middle of a flood zone area but did not receive any warning or evacuation advisory leading up to the super storm. If warning signs were posted they did not understand because they were not in Spanish. “The day of the storm we were scared because we were feeling the strength and power of the storm. The wind and rain was like nothing we had ever experienced. By the time we decided to leave our apartment the water was already up to our thighs,” recalls Patricia.

The Maria Aguilar family went to stay with a friend on Tompkins Avenue. Less than an hour of being in their friend’s home they received a call from a neighbor informing them that their apartment building was on fire.

The family was not able to see the damage until days later after the flood waters had receded. They were told that the fire department tried to stop the fire but could not get near the building because the flood waters were too high. When the family was able to go back to their home they were totally devastated. “Nothing was left but ashes. We lost everything but the clothes on our backs and the few things we packed to weather the storm,” recalled Jesus.

“I ran into the freezing water towards the building thinking that there was something I could save,” said Patricia. “We work so hard for the few things we have. To see everything that we have worked for gone was incomprehensible. I was stunned.”

The fire occurred when 90 mile per hour winds and rain caused an electrical short in the power line in front of the Maria Aguilar’s apartment building.

For months the Maria Aguilar family lived with their nephew with no help or direction on where to go for help. Since they are undocumented they were not able to receive any federal government aid including FEMA.

“We were desperate. We had no money. I worked when I could find it. Because of my arthritis and diabetes acting up it made it very difficult to find work during this time. A neighbor told my nephew about El Centro del Inmigrante, (El Centro), about the services they provided and that it was all confidential. We immediately went and started our recovery process,” said Jesus.

At El Centro the family met with Catholic Charities disaster case manager Melba Rodriguez and received immediate help, gift cards for food and basic necessities as well as the down payment for their new apartment. What they urgently needed was a refrigerator and air conditioner. The family was using plastic coolers and ice to keep their perishable food cold and edible. In early September, Jesus received $1,300 in Home Depot gift cards to purchase his refrigerator and air conditioner.

El Centro is one of the community-based agencies subcontracted by Catholic Charities to provide a locally-based disaster case manager for each family that have unmet needs related to Hurricane Sandy. El Centro addresses the needs of newly arrived immigrant day laborers and their families. Through immigrant and labor advocacy, educational workshops, labor leadership training, and emergency intervention for hunger, homelessness, health and safety needs, El Centro provides opportunities for economic empowerment, community-building and organizing.

Catholic Charities has a proven track record of managing disaster cases beginning with the 911 terror attack in 2001 then Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late 2011. The NYS Division of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Management, (OEM), has an existing contract with Catholic Charities to manage the DCM program for the 34 counties that were impacted by the Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee and requested that Catholic Charities expand on this experience and manage the long term disaster case management program for survivors of Sandy.

The program is designed to provide a locally-based disaster case manager for each family in the 13 impacted New York counties that have unmet needs related to Hurricane Sandy. By funding networks of community-based agencies, NYS hopes to provide easy access to support residents seeking help and to avoid duplication of services.

Catholic Charities has subcontracted with 20 locally-based not-for-profit organizations with demonstrated expertise in the provision of case management services to serve impacted communities. El Centro is one of these community-based agencies funded.

Through this program Catholic Charities case manager Rodriguez has laid out a long term plan for the Maria Aguilar family that has assessed their immediate and long term situation. She has assisted them in receiving the aid that they need to get back on their feet. “The Maria Aguilar family has gone through an extremely difficult life altering situation, but they are resilient and hard working people,” said Ms. Rodriguez.

“We finally feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are feeling better emotionally, physically and finally feeling hopeful for a good future. We are extremely grateful for the help that Ms. Rodriguez, Catholic Charities and El Centro has given us. I don’t know what we would have done without the help” acknowledged Patricia.

“I thank God everyday that we are alive and that we suffered no injuries, material things can always be replaced. We came to this country from Acapulco, Mexico nine years ago with nothing and we have always worked hard. We will continue to build our lives. It is the only thing we can do,” concluded Jesus.

Many Have Forgotten Sandy Survivors’ Struggles; Day Laborers Remember and Volunteer

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

The truckloads of volunteers that once filled Staten Island streets after Hurricane Sandy struck have dwindled to a halt. But while memories of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation have faded for many, the reality remains stark for Staten Island homeowners still struggling to rebuild.

Fortunately, day laborers have not forgotten.

Better known for their predawn gatherings on street corners as they seek work in gardening and construction, these men and women without legal documentation continue to make the nearly five-hour round trip commute from Yonkers to Staten Island to provide for free their skills and expertise. They tear out five-feet-tall weeds suffocating once-green lawns, repair boilers and strip out mold-laden walls.

Last week, men from Obreros Unidos de Yonkers, a group of day laborers in the Yonkers area served by Catholic Charities, accompanied Catholic Charities staff to install sheetrock for a homeowner in Staten Island’s Midland Beach.

Catholic Charities has an ongoing involvement with Obreros Unidos De Yonkers, a group of approximately 300 day laborers in the Yonkers area. Through this program, Catholic Charities educates workers on employment rights and responsibilities in order to prevent exploitation and abuse. Catholic Charities also assists in the collection of unpaid wages, helps workers get access to healthcare services, provides emergency food, and offers English language and computer skills instruction.

Please join us in helping Sandy survivors rebuild.

Volunteers are needed to work with us on Columbus Day to replace damaged chain link fencing at a homeowner’s yard in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island. We also need folks to help us bundle up the damaged fence and stretch and hang a new one.

All tools and equipment will be provided as well as transportation from Manhattan to the site in Staten Island and back. All we ask is that you bring some muscle and your lunch.

Click here for details.

Surviving Sandy; This Year There Are No Roses

Friday, August 30th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Raindrops pour down a battered picket fence dotted with Mickey and Minnie Mouse paintings surrounding Marina Babkina’s two-story attached home in Midland Beach. They serve as faded reminders of a once-thriving international daycare center and home now struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy touched down in this Staten Island enclave.

Ms. Babkina’s Karousel Daycare Center and Fairytale music studio provided crucial support for her predominantly Russian-born neighbors. In addition to allowing parents to work worry free, it helped young children, many of whom spoke no English, acclimate to their new lives in the United States.

“The human brain is set up to distinguish music before it distinguishes speech,” says Ms. Babkina, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Russia nearly 20 years ago and holds masters degrees in music and economics. So Ms. Bakina, a widow whose husband died of cancer in 2002, used songs and instruments ranging from guitars to keyboards to help her tiny charges, 14 in all, learn language, math and art.

That ended when Hurricane Sandy pushed waves from the Atlantic Ocean that roars just one block away into the basement and first floor that housed her business. Meanwhile, 90- mile-an-hour winds ripped through her second-floor skylights, destroying the walls, floors and furniture that made up her home.

Ms. Babkina evacuated. But her adult son, Ilya, returned to save instruments stored in the finished basement. Instead, he nearly drowned. Forty-degree ocean water filled the lower room. He escaped by pulling himself up the cellar stairs, pushing his way out the front door and swimming nearly 15 blocks up Hyland Blvd. Finally, he reached dry land.

Yet at first, Ms. Babkina seemed like one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of her neighbors, she had flood insurance.

But she used up her flood insurance – $50,000 in all — to replace windows, walls, cabinets and appliances before engineers noticed that her house was shifting. Chocking on scents of mold mixed with sawdust, Ms. Bakina points to cracks zigzagging her windows and walls, salt water still flowing along her foundation and a jagged 12-square-foot gap in cement, a reminder of a cracked pipe that had to be dug up beneath her basement.

Her Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, Valerya Osipova, is helping this once-independent woman navigate a new world characterized by FEMA and forms, hope and desperation.

It has not been easy.

 

Ms. Babkina’s home is wedged in the middle of five attached houses. Construction engineers now recommend building pillars that would extend from deep in the ground to the houses’ roofs to shore up the now shifting homes. This, however, requires consent and financial support from all five homeowners as well as their insurance companies.

 

Meanwhile, Ms. Babkina is unable to move back into her home, reestablish the business that once paid her bills or provide the daycare that allowed many of her neighbors to work.

 

Ms. Osipova is helping Ms. Babkina negotiate with FEMA and with her insurance company. She obtained a $500 grant to replace the battered fence with a new one to allow Ms. Babkina to reopen her daycare business. She lined up donations that range from flooring to skylights and furniture between. She provided her with food from a Catholic Charities food pantry, helped her apply for food stamps and linked her with other government programs that Ms. Bakina once thought she would never need. And she serves as a comfort and sounding board when the time and energy needed to maintain the struggle seems too much for her to bear.

 

“It’s not easy,” Ms. Babkina says, pointing out a plot of dirt once filled by rose bushes that would bloom on her July birthday. “This year, there are no roses.”


You Come Into This World with Nothing and You Leave with Nothing

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Wincing as he walks, Donald Marcus, 70, surveys what is left of the eight bungalows he once rented out in Midland Beach, Staten Island, that provided affordable housing for friends and strangers.

“People live paycheck to paycheck,” he says, explaining why he rented out the one-bedroom homes just blocks from the beach for as little as $400 per month.

“I believe you come in this world with nothing and you leave with nothing.”

This is proving true for him.  Three of his bungalows destroyed by Superstorm Sandy have already been demolished by the city, including one where his tenant Jack Paterno, 65, drowned in the storm.

Two more, including the one he rented out to an elderly woman who shared her home with her mentally challenged brother so he would not have to live in an institution,  have been gutted right down to the salt-water soaked beams.

The final three he uses to demonstrate degrees of rebirth thanks to donations of time, materials and services he received by networking with everyone he meets, from the man he met that morning in line at McDonalds to the Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, MaryEllen Ferrer, who coordinates disaster recovery services for him.

Still, Mr. Marcus recognizes that his days of providing housing to the down and out are gone forever.  His former printing business up the street on Midland Ave that for 38 years printed everything from Pops Baseball cards to politicians’ bulletins and CYO flyers washed away in the storm as well.

“Not one dry sheet of paper was left,” he says.

Seventy years old, with no flood insurance and ineligible for FEMA loans to restore the bungalos because FEMA helps with primary residences, Mr. Marcus asks rhetorically “what am I going to do?  Start over?”

Catholic Charities cannot replace his former life, his Disaster Case Manager Valeriya Osipova says.  But it can help him get back on his feet, she adds.

As a disaster case manager, Ms. Osipova serves as advocate and expediter for Mr. Marcus and others whose lives have been upended by Sandy.  She created an individualized disaster recovery plan to advocate for access to needed services, coordinate benefits, and make referrals that range from obtaining sheetrock for Mr. Marcus’ houses to linking him to connecting him to volunteers to help repair his home.

Grateful for the assistance, Mr. Marcus tries to remain upbeat.  After all, Superstorm Sandy left his own home on Augusta Avenue in Staten Island undamaged, he said.  And his wife of 45 years who fell, broke her femur bone and was put on life support two months after the storm, is now recovering at home.

Yet the reality, he says, cannot be escaped.

“This is going to happen again,” Mr. Marcus says.  “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  But again.”

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan Teams with Clergy and Immigrant Leaders to Call for Immigration Reform

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Alice Kenny

As part of a national month of prayer and action, Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan joined yesterday with Staten Island Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant clergy and immigrant leaders to reflect on the lives of new immigrants.  The crowd gathered at St. Margaret Mary ’s Church in Midland Beach, Staten Island, with the church’s pastor, Fr. Erno Diaz, to pray for immigrants’ full inclusion through just and humane comprehensive immigration reform.

They held the event during the August Congressional recess, Director of NYS Interfaith Network for Immigration Relief Diane Steinman said, to persuade House of Representatives members to do the right thing for immigrants and our nation at large,

Among the many speakers was Maggie Kawas, an immigrant who spoke about her father’s deportation and, similar to many immigrant families, the tragic toll it took.

Msgr. Sullivan then spoke about witnessing firsthand the pain and suffering of undocumented immigrants forced to live in the shadows, many who live in fear of deportation or whose families have been shattered by deportation.

Learn more about what he said and the event in SILive.

Catholic Charities helps immigrants reunite legally with their families, obtain proper work authorization, learn English and civics, and prepare to pass citizenship exams. Catholic Charities also assists immigrants in avoiding exploitation by unscrupulous practitioners by providing correct information and realistic counsel about immigration status.

Looking for immigration assistance?  Call us at the New York State (NYS) New Americans Hotline: 1-212-419-3737 or 1-800-566-7636 (Toll-free in NYS)

For help finding other services you need please call us at the Catholic Charities Help line at: 888-744-7900.

Going door to door, tent to shed, to serve those still suffering from Superstorm Sandy.

Friday, July 26th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Although nine months have passed since Hurricane Sandy pushed ocean waves down the streets of Staten Island’s Midland Beach, upending cars, flooding homes and destroying nearly everything in its wake, some residents of this seaside community still live in makeshift tents and sheds.  Some even sleep on park benches.

Many still need assistance with basic needs such as food and shelter. This includes children, the elderly, and new immigrants. Nine months into this disaster and many believe they have nowhere to turn for help.

A number of local volunteer organizations have been created or expanded to address these needs. “Every night a volunteer goes out in search of those still in need of a meal and a place to sleep,” says Catholic Charities Community Development Coordinator Lourdes Ferrer.

Over three hundred Sandy survivors already receive support from Catholic Charities disaster case managers stationed at Catholic Charities’ office at 120 Anderson Avenue in Staten Island. But rather than just waiting for Sandy survivors to come to Catholic Charities, disaster case managers also go to them.

Catholic Charities manages the New York State Disaster Case Management Program. Designed to streamline support and avoid frustration and confusion, the Disaster Case Management program whittles down the complex system of disaster support by providing survivors with a single point of contact to access a broad range of resources. This allows people still reeling from the loss of jobs and homes to avoid the need to search out multiple organizations that might respond to their various needs. Instead, survivors can relate their experiences and submit their documentation to a single, local disaster case manager who guides them through the recovery process.

Many residents of Staten Island never before had to ask for social service help and were unsure of the value of these services.  They initially hoped they could do everything themselves.

So Catholic Charities teamed up with local “hubs,” ad hoc service centers that sprang up in neighborhoods hit hardest by the hurricane to provide food, water, clothing, supplies and services, educate the community and reach more of those in need.   Case managers from Catholic Charities now help staff the Staten Island Alliance office on Colony Ave, enrolling many new clients into the program and meeting with existing clients.  Case managers are also able to meet with clients in their homes.  To extend these services, Catholic Charities disaster case managers are preparing to staff another hub in the New Dorp neighborhood in Staten Island. By meeting staff at home, in local hubs and Catholic Charities offices, hurricane survivors can feel comfortable in familiar surroundings close to home among people they know.

“People think that because so many months have passed, that everything is back to ‘normal’,” Lourdes said. “But the reality is there are communities in Staten Island that are still recovering and struggling to accept the new ‘normal’.”

Catholic Charities Provides 1000s of Holiday Meals in Hurricane-Ravaged Neighborhoods

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Thanks to support from the Mayor’s Fund Holiday Meal mini-grant and other generous donations, Catholic Charities provided 1,000 meals, warmth and support throughout the holiday season to those struggling in the Staten Island Hurricane Sandy Recovery Zone.

Catholic Charities served dinner to 682 people including victims of Hurricane Sandy, day laborers and their families, and low-income residents and gave toys to children at the CYO Center at Anderson Avenue in Staten Island on the Friday before Christmas, December 21, 2012.

Then, on Christmas Day, Catholic Charities hosted a sit-down dinner for more 300 people including day laborers and their families at the same location.  The multi-course meal included everything from turkey to apple pie and was donated and served by Young Israel and Temple Emmanuel.  After the meal, guests received gifts of clothing and toys.

On New Year’s eve and day, Catholic Charities delivered 6,000 meals to families in the Hurricane-ravaged Midland Beach neighborhood to reach those hardest hit by the super storm.

To top off the holiday, Catholic Charities celebrated Three Kings Day – El Dia de Los Reyes – by serving up a light traditional Mexican meal to 316 people on January 3 at the CYO Center.  After the meal, three “kings” distributed toys and books to the children as well as clothing and toiletries to those in need.

The holidays have come to a close but need continues.

Would you like to help? Donate today, or sign up to volunteer.

“We got nothing,” He said. “We’ll take anything you can give us.”

Friday, January 4th, 2013

By Jeanne McGettigan, Catholic Charities Director of Emergency Food Services

On New Year’s Eve, Catholic Charities Emergency Food Services Department enlisted our Mobile Food Pantry staff and volunteers to distribute 6,000 meals in Midland Beach, a Staten Island neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Three staff and four volunteers rose early in the morning to pack bags at our delivery location in the Bronx, while another staff member waited for 26 cases of frozen chickens to be unloaded at the distribution site in Midland Beach, St. Margaret Mary Church.  In addition, one staff member stopped by our Staten Island office at Anderson Avenue to pick up 100 children’s books to distribute to children who stopped by. By 11am, the Mobile was parked in the lot of the parish, at 560 Lincoln Avenue.

A steady stream of residents arrived. Some had heard from their pastor, others from fliers given out at the nearby Restoration Center.  One woman said that she had just gotten a small electric oven, and she would cook her first meal in it with some of the items.  Residents who were still not able to cook were glad for ready-to-eat items such as apple cider, tuna, cream cheese, bread, romaine lettuce, and oranges.

Jim Reagan, head of the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society, offered to drive staff around to some of the still-devastated areas to check in and offer help.  It was sad to go block after block and find so many houses empty, their former residents staying elsewhere.  However, when we did find occupants at home, they were very grateful for assistance.

One man invited us into his humble bungalow, stripped down to the studs.

“We’ve got nothing” he said.  “We’ll take anything you can give us.”

Another family of six sent their two teenagers out to carry in armfuls of food.

One resident said, “I’m ok.  Give it to someone who needs it.”  A few minutes later, he was back. “I have a friend I can bring this to.  I’ll take a bag.”

By mid afternoon, over half of the bags had been distributed and the numbers of recipients had slowed.

Staff then contacted Tony Hall, of STAR (Small Town America Recovers) with a restoration hub set up at Midland and Kiswick.  Tony has been running a grass roots effort since the earliest days after the hurricane.  He agreed to take the remaining food and distribute it from his tent.

By the time we arrived to do the drop-off, a line had already gathered.  There was a family there: mother, father and child who had lost everything and were so grateful for the food that they received. They let me know that they had to abandon their home for the time and were living with their father in-law. A home of one suddenly became a house of four and food and money were scarce so they were happy to take some of the ‘burden’ from their father, if only for a few meals. When we checked in with Tony a few days later, he confirmed that all of the remaining food had been distributed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to residents of Midland Beach.

Catholic Charities volunteers wage battle to restore hurricane-ravaged bungalow

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

By Alice Kenny

Armed with hammers, crowbars and compassion, a troupe of volunteers joined forces with Catholic Charities last Friday, November 30, in their battle to restore a Staten Island bungalow ravaged last month by Hurricane Sandy.

They included white-haired retirees who drove 25 hours from Montevideo, Minnesota, staff from Six Flags Corporate Office and neighbors from Midland Beach, a disaster zone slammed by last month’s super storm.

“You have to restore people’s spirit; give them hope,” said Staten Island resident and volunteer Deb Deats.

Working nearly nonstop, volunteers and staff pulled out mold-covered sheet rock, insulation and tiles.  The sturdy plastic bags they pushed the debris into formed a heap 7-feet high and 25-feet long.

“I came to realize why America is so rich,” said Charlie, who was born in Korea and raised his family for the past seven years in the now-sodden pink bungalow.  “God bless America,” he said, choking back tears.  “You helped me.”

Watch their video.

Do you need help?

Click here for more resources and information.

Would you like to help others recover?

Text SANDY to 85944 to make a one-time $10 donation.

Volunteers and Staff Ignore Rotting Debris to Help Hurricane Victims Rebuild

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

By Alice Kenny

Donning face masks, work gloves and sheer determination, Catholic Charities staff worked with 24 volunteers it had mobilized to remove sheetrock, flooring and furniture in Midland Beach Staten Island homes destroyed by the super storm.

They ignored smells of rotting food and sewage, said Damian Buzzerio, one of the Catholic Charities staff members who joined the crew, to stuff garbage bags with debris left from the Hurricane’s destruction.

Catholic Charities Staten Island staff identified homeowners who needed help to recover from the hurricane.

Click here to watch a video of their efforts.