Posts Tagged ‘Staten Island’

“We lost everything,” Says This Sandy Survivor. “And when I say everything I mean everything.”

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

DCM Valeriya Osipova

By Alice Kenny

Evelyn Schwabacher, 51, and her son, Dominic, 23, were left with nothing but the bags of clothes they ran out of their home with the day that Hurricane Sandy struck Staten Island.

Ms. Schwabacher lived almost all her life in a two-story home on Zustan St. in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island.  She grew up there.  She returned there and raised with help from her parents her son and daughter after her husband died 18 years ago.  And she said goodbye to her mother there when the elderly woman died a year before Hurricane Sandy stormed through the island.

But when ocean water filled the house all the way up to its second floor destroying all she owned, multiple disaster relief agencies told her she was ineligible for help.

“We lost everything,” Ms. Schwabacher said.  “And when I say everything I mean everything.”

The only belongings that survived were two photos that hung above their fireplace mantle, one of her children and one of her parents taken the day they married.  For days following the flood, her father carried that wedding photo with him wherever he went.

FEMA gave Ms. Schwabacher’s eighty-year-old father enough to enable him to leave Staten Island and its memories behind.  He bought an inexpensive condo in Florida and began a new life.

But FEMA said that Ms. Schwabacher and her son, who together paid her father a nominal $400/month rent, were ineligible for disaster recovery assistance.  So she contacted Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager Valeriya Osipova for help. Ms. Osipova contacted Red Cross.  The agency initially approved, then reversed its approval of rental assistance, citing FEMA’s determination as its reason for denial.  Ms. Osipova also spoke with an attorney Staten Island Legal Services.

Meanwhile, things turned ugly in the apartment that Ms. Schwabacher and her son temporarily shared with a friend after the hurricane hit. So she called Ms. Osipova on a Saturday afternoon to ask that she help her move out quickly. Ms. Osipova worked with the social service agency, Project Hospitality, to immediately obtain and pay for a rental room at Cosmopolitan Hotel for Ms. Schwabacher and her son.

They stayed at the hotel for two weeks.  But they needed a long-range plan.  They could not afford to live on their own with the income Ms. Schwabacher earned as a waitress and he earned working minimum wage jobs.  Similar to her father, she wanted, she said, to put behind her the nightmare of Hurricane Sandy and the hard times that followed.

A cousin living in Stone Mountain, Georgia suggested Ms. Schwabacher and her son move there where rents are cheap and jobs are plentiful.  Since Ms. Schwabacher had no savings, her disaster case manager made the move possible by drawing on Sandy relief funds to cover Ms. Schwabacher’s rental deposit and first month’s rent.

Ms. Schwabacher phoned Ms. Osipova for help on a Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to the support and counseling Ms. Osipova provided, Ms. Schwabacher and her son moved to Georgia, found work and rented an apartment two weeks later.  Ms. Schwabacher and her son drove with a cousin to Georgia.  She interviewed for a waitressing job at a local International House of Pancakes the following day.   She and her son then found an affordable one-bedroom apartment.  The $900 deposit and first month’s rent were paid with Catholic Charities Sandy Relief funds.   Meanwhile, Ms. Schabacher’s son applied for multiple jobs and expects to land one at Wal-Mart.

“It’s still hard for me to believe that within 20 days of calling Catholic Charities for help I was able to land a job, find an apartment and began my life again,” Ms. Schwabacher said.   “Valeriya stood by me; if it weren’t for her, I had no place to go.”

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.

Donors and Devastation: Connecting the Dots

Monday, August 5th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Driven in on flatbed trucks, dropped off from backpacks and carted in on wagons, donations for Sandy survivors began arriving in Staten Island after Super Storm destroyed nearly everything in its wake.

As donors pulled in, many making their first visit ever to this island floating between Brooklyn and Bayonne, they faced the same key question.  Where could donations be safely stored so they would be disbursed quickly to those most in need?

Catholic Charities stepped forward immediately to offer its cavernous gym at Mission of the Immaculate Virgin Mount Loretto in Staten Island.  Now serving as a makeshift warehouse and distribution center organized and staffed by Catholic Charities, the gym is stocked with heaters, dehumidifiers, tools and supplies. Most resources are limited as donated stock can change daily.

The donation center illustrates yet another support system cobbled together by social service and government agencies, corporations and private donors to help Sandy survivors rebuild their homes and lives.

“What’s available today may be gone by tomorrow,” says Catholic Charities Community Development Coordinator Lourdes Ferrer. “With Disaster Case Management things are constantly evolving.”

Statewide, more than 5,000 of Sandy survivors receive disaster case management services.  Managed by Catholic Charities, the New York State 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.

Catholic Charities hired two full-time staff members to oversee the donation center and ensure fair distribution of its wares.  The agency also partnered with other Staten Island bases organizations to assure that all residents affect by Sandy, have access to the donated items and materials.

“When disasters happen, people just want everything fixed so they can get back to life as it was, but sometimes that’s not possible; sometimes there are no quick fixes,” Ms. Ferrer says.  “Disaster case managers play a very important and difficult role in the recovery process.  They have to maintain people’s confidence and keep them calm while walking them through a recovery process that can take years.”

  • If you were affected by Superstorm Sandy or know someone who was, contact your Case Manager to access needed materials.
  • If you do not have a case manager, contact the Sandy Referral Line at 855-258-0483.

Catholic Charities on the Move

Monday, June 17th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Several key departments are moving this summer out of the Catholic Center at 1011 First Avenue and into local neighborhoods.

The changes are part of Catholic Charities’ focus to provide localized, streamlined support for persons in need.

Eviction Prevention and Emergency Food Services, for example, moved to the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Center at 34 W. 134 St. in Harlem.

This move adds to specialized services Catholic Charities already offers in local neighborhoods stretching from Staten Island to the Catskill Mountains and throughout the Archdiocese of New York.

Stay tuned for information and updates.

Looking for help?

Catholic Charities provides a wide range of specialized assistance.

  • Call Catholic Charities Help Line — 888-744-7900 — to find services and support at a location near you.
  • Click here for an A-Z Agency Directory
  • E-mail us through our contact form

Building Bridges by Feeding Our Neighbors

Monday, March 18th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Feeding Our Neighbors, an Archdiocesan effort throughout 10 counties to fight hunger, celebrated the tremendous participation of Catholic schools among others during its second annual campaign with an Art Exhibition and Awards Presentation at the New York Catholic Center on East 55th Street in Manhattan on March 13.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Monsignor Kevin Sullivan joined with Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York, and Dan Ahouse, Cablevision Area Director of Government Affairs, to welcome participants and announce awards.

“As we celebrate this wonderful transition and election of Pope Francis, we remember that one of his titles is called Pontifex, a word that simply means the builder of bridges,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan at the event.

“The pope builds bridges,” Msgr. Sullivan continued. “The Catholic Church builds bridges. And Feeding Our Neighbors has built bridges because of the participation of so many.”

Students at local Catholic schools competed in the Feeding Our Neighbor Art Contest. Awardees included Syleste Alexander, a student at St. Teresa School in Staten Island, Omar Reyes, a student at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and Anna Nicotra, a student at St. Augustine School in Ossining.

High School students also competed in the Cablevision Power to Learn Competition that raised food and funds for hungry New Yorkers. Students representing Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx won the competition. They donated their $6,000 award to their favorite charities; $5,000 to their high school and $1,000 to Catholic Charities.

The Feeding Our Neighbors Campaign is a response to Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s call that we all do our part to replenish the food pantries and soup kitchens that growing numbers of families and children in our communities rely on to survive. Sponsored by Catholic organizations throughout the Archdiocese of New York and managed by Catholic Charities, contributions to the campaign support local food pantries that serve New Yorkers non-Catholic and Catholic alike. Now in its second year, Feeding Our Neighbors joined forces this season with UJA Federation of New York to fight hunger and need.

  • In New York City, approximately 400,000 children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries for food.
  • In New York State, more than 3 million people rely on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or Food Stamps) to meet their basic food needs.

Join us in Feeding Our Neighbors.

Click here to do your part to make sure no hungry neighbor is turned away.

  • $11.16 helps feed a child for one day.
  • $45 helps feed a family of four.

People Say Hurricane Sandy Is Over. It’s Nowhere Near Over.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

 By Alice Kenny

Thirty-foot-high waves crashed through Evelyn’s street “so high, so fast that if we’d stayed another minute we would have been trapped inside,” she said, still breathing fast four months later as she related the event.

Never had Evelyn imagined seeing the ocean out the windows of her Seavers Avenue home, she said.  After all, the two-story semi attached brick and shingled house she  shared with her sons, Christopher, 14, and Nicholas, 18, was surrounded by fellow semi-attached homes that stretched more than a mile to the nearest beach.

But on the evening of October 29, Hurricane Sandy whipped the mighty Atlantic as it commandeered Staten Island roads, washed away homes, trucks and businesses and destroyed nearly everything Evelyn and her family owned.

“People think it’s over,” she said, recalling that night and all the tough days that have come since then.  “It’s nowhere near over.”

She, her sons, and their two dogs, Pluto and Poppy, fought their way through the waves.  They dove into their 2000 Ford Explorer.  And they escaped, literally, with nothing more than the clothes on their back.  Salt water, dead fish and debris filled the basement and first floor of their former home.

If it were not for help from volunteers who drove nearly 1,000 miles from Tennessee to lend a hand coupled with donations from St. Margaret Mary Church and Catholic Charities, she could never have rebuilt her home, she said.

Fortunately, St. Margaret Mary Church in Staten Island gave her sheet rock, insulation, doors, compound, nails, and tape.  They also gave her a $500 gift card to Home Depot from Catholic Charities.

“I now had everything needed to set me up,” she said.

But it was only a start.

This single mom had no money to pay for the rehab.  When she returned to work a week after the storm, her employer, an insurance billing company, told her not to come back, she said.  She could not qualify for unemployment benefits, she added, because the company denied firing her, telling the New York State Unemployment Office that they instead told her to “take all the time she needs to recover.”  Meanwhile, her flood and homeowners insurance still have not processed her claims.

So, while she and her sons squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment paid for, temporarily, by FEMA, she went online seeking help.  On a Facebook site set up for Sandy Survivors she came across five men from Tennessee.  They were looking, they wrote, for a dry place to stay in Staten Island so they could volunteer their rehab skills.   Although the basement and first floor of her Seavers Avenue home had been destroyed, the second floor was dry, she wrote back, and they were welcome to it.

When the Tennessee volunteers arrived – “three guys in their 40s and two guys old enough to be my father” – they discovered that she was one of the only neighbors to have the rehab materials they needed to get to work.  So they chose her home.

For more than a week they worked 12-hour days, tearing out sodden insulation and sheet rock and mucking out flooring.  Then they rebuilt the walls and floors using the brand new building supplies that St. Margaret Mary Church and Catholic Charities had given her.

Her story, however, is far from finished.

“People are scavenging for building materials, people who have it much worse than me,” she said.  “It’s a community; it’s not just me.”

Would you like to help?

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

Calling all CYO basketball players, cheerleaders, runners — and families and friends to cheer them on.

Friday, March 8th, 2013

 By Alice Kenny

Check out these upcoming events:

Saturday 3/9 and Sunday 3/10 First Round of Archdiocesan CYO Basketball Playoffs

Ulster County:  John A. Coleman Catholic High School.  Games begin at 10:00 am on 3/9/13.

Staten Island:  CYO-MIV Center.  Games start at 9:00 am on Saturday, 3/9/13 and 1:00 pm on Sunday, 3/10/13.

Bronx:  Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. 3/10/13. Game times TBA.

Orange County: 3/9/13. Game times TBA.

Saturday 3/1657th Archdiocesan CYO Cheerleading Competition at Fordham University 

The competition begins at 10:00 am

Saturday 3/16 CYO Developmental Track Clinic and Relays at Fordham Preparatory School *

Clinic will be held with four-time Olympic Athlete (and CYO Board Member) Aliann Pompey.  Registration begins at 8:45 am


Saturday 3/16 and Sunday 3/17Second Round of Archdiocesan CYO Basketball Playoffs

Rockland County:   Pearl River High School and Dominican College.  3/16/13. Game times TBA.

Staten Island: CYO-MIV Center. Games start at 9:00 am on Saturday and 1:00 pm on Sunday


Saturday 3/23 Archdiocesan CYO Basketball Championships

Held at the CYO-MIV Center and St. Joseph by the Sea High School in Staten Island.

Games at the CYO-MIV Center start at 9:00 am.

Games at St. Joseph by the Sea High School start at 11:00 am

Events are held for existing players on existing teams EXCEPT for the Track Meet/Clinic on 3/16.

*The track meet/clinic welcome athletes of all experience levels, with the focus strongly placed on education and participation.  The event is open to all CYO Teams throughout the Archdiocese of New York, and individuals may register and represent their parish.  All age levels and abilities are encouraged to attend.

Need more information? Call Sarah Masterson at 646-794-2062

Would you like to volunteer?  Click here.

Boos for Hurricane Sandy; Cheers for Its Victims

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

 By Alice Kenny

Synchronizing flying Dutchmen’s with back flips and shouts, cheerleaders raised spirits and funds for a good cause at the 2013 Cheerleading Competition held on Saturday, March 2, at the largest youth sporting event staged every year on Staten Island.

This year marked the 57th annual Cheerleading Competition held by Catholic Charities Catholic Youth Organization, CYO, in Staten Island.  But in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that destroyed the homes and businesses of families and friends throughout much of this borough, the cheerleaders decided to do something different.  Instead of competing, high school cheerleaders performed in a Cheer for Sandy exhibition that donated proceeds to benefit victims of the storm.

Nearly one thousand parents, grandparents and friends filled the stands at the College of Staten Island’s Sports and Recreation Center in Willowbrook.

“This is like the Super Bowl, the World Series for Staten Island,” said Kristine Romano, cheerleading coach with our Lady of Queen Peace.

Elementary-aged cheerleaders held their regular annual competition earlier in the day.  Winning teams – including Our Lady Star of the Sea that placed first for both the Elementary Varsity and Deb Regular competitions – then performed their routines with high school cheerleaders during the afternoon Cheer for Sandy performance.

“We try to teach our kids that there is a connection; that it’s not just sports,” said Joe Panepinto, executive director of Staten Island Catholic Charities.  “And they’ve been wonderful.”

Click here if you missed the competition but still want to help

Watch the video on NY1.

Read more in the Staten Island Advance.