Sunbathing took on a whole different meaning for people in Ocean Acres on Saturday, June 15. The sound of laughter, light-hearted conversation and hammers pounding nails into wood echoed throughout the neighborhood in Stafford Township, NJ as Habitat for Humanity of Southern Ocean County members and other local residents gathered in the warm sun on Crest Avenue to help continue the formation of a single-family home.
|Photo by Ryan Morrill|
New Jersey Habitat volunteers help
build a house for a family in need.
Annmarie Eick, 51, and her son, Anthony Mastrandrea, 19, are the recipients of the one-story house, set on a beautiful piece of property with lush vegetation. The two have been renting in Barnegat since Eick divorced Mastrandrea’s father in 2010 and sold their home in Little Egg Harbor Township, which they owned for four years.
“We bought the (old) house when the market was high and, because of the divorce, had to sell it when the economy crashed and the market was low. I lost money on it, actually,” said Eick.
She said she was in a state of euphoria, speechless and crying, and even popped open a bottle of sparkling cider when Habitat told her that she and her son had been chosen as the recipients of the house project, which requires participants to make enough income to repay the mortgage.
“Habitat for Humanity is the bank,” stressed John Steele, the organization’s president. “Without the help of the people that volunteer their time, this is not possible. This is what we do. This is what the mission is, to provide simple, decent housing for everyone on the planet,” he added.
|Photo by Ryan Morrill|
Mastrandrea and Eick take a moment to
acknowledge the volunteers and their efforts.
Since its inception in 1995, the local branch of the nonprofit organization has constructed more than 20 buildings in the area for local families that meet the organization’s home ownership selection requirements. But this particular project is the first to be led in partnership with Stafford Township. The development, which helps fulfill the town’s Fair Share Housing obligations in accordance with the state’s Council On Affordable Housing mandates, is being funded through an Affordable Housing grant provided by the township.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora and Council President Henry Mancini visited the site on Saturday afternoon to show their support. Praise was given to the “best construction crew” and for the project, the “American dream.”
“I’m working with mayors in a lot of towns, and we have had a tremendous, tremendous response from people in Stafford Township throughout Hurricane Sandy,” Spodofora said. “You guys have been out there regardless, before Hurricane Sandy, and you’ve always been doing a great job. As was mentioned by Mr. Steele, we have a total commitment toward your efforts and future, and we want more affordable housing here in Stafford Township.
|Photo by Ryan Morrill|
Volunteers sign their names on the wall panels,
which will be become a part of the home.
“Council President Henry Mancini and I were talking before we got up here, and we’re so blessed to live in such a wonderful community that has so much to offer to people. But the community is the people. It’s what we’re all about, and I saw the volunteerism throughout Sandy, and I saw where we went throughout Sandy and where we are today. I think we’re truly a blessed town,” he added.
Spodofora went on to say Stafford Township had received word from FEMA on Friday, June 14, regarding the town’s new base flood elevation map.
“The elevations will be lower, and there are no V-zones left in Beach Haven West at all,” he stated. “Henry and I worked together on this; a lot of effort went into this. So this is just one step toward the rebuilding of our town. Stafford’s never down and out. We just have little bumps along the way, and we take care of them as we go along.”
The new map was released by FEMA on Monday, June 17.
Before the group sat down to indulge in lunch, a spread of hamburgers, hot dogs, snacks and water, as well as chicken McNuggets and apple slices, donated by the local McDonald’s where Mastrandrea works as a shift manager, the heart-warming speech ended with a prayer led by Msgr. Ken Tuzeneu of St. Mary’s Parish.
“I apologize for being overdressed. I’m doing my other job at the same time,” he joked in typical form, while clad in clerical clothing.
After quickly recharging their bodies with enough sustenance to power them on, the group set back to work on the house.
Greg Muszynski, Habitat’s director of operations, said they had filed the building permits for the new home on Feb. 28. The lot was cleared in March, with the foundation, floor joists, block work and sub-flooring following thereafter. Saturday’s task included installing the wood framing for the walls. Mastrandrea helped put up the walls to his new bedroom.
The spirited group, which included students from Habitat’s Pinelands Campus Chapter and the All Saints Regional Catholic School in Manahawkin, where Eick works as a preschool teaching assistant, pledged to have the roof truss, and possibly the outside house sheathing, completed by the end of the day. They began working on the project at 8:30 a.m. and did not expect to be finished until 4 or 5 p.m.
The volunteers even took the time to sign their names on different pieces of wood, which would become part of the home.
Construction will continue on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, weather permitting. Steele said the house would take about another four months to complete.
“I’m praying for nice weather on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from now until Thanksgiving,” Eick said, laughing.
She and Mastrandrea hope to be in their new home by early fall.
“I’m really happy. (The house) is good for both of us,” Mastrandrea said. “We had a rough couple of years, and this has taken a lot of stress off of you,” he added, looking at his mother.
“But we held on,” said Eick. Anthony “has always lived in our own home. Renting was a big change; I felt bad for him.”
Habitat will begin working on a new house project, for a family in Little Egg Harbor, in the fall. Eick and Mastrandrea will help pay it forward by volunteering to help build the new house for another family in need.
“This is really overwhelming. People are giving up their own Saturday for us because they have hearts,” she said, smiling.
The optimistic grins and jovial nature of the group had Manahawkin resident Chris Stipicevic, a first-time Habitat volunteer, feeling overwhelmed, too.
“First of all, all these people are so much fun,” she said. Everyone’s smiling and kidding around with each other. When do you get to see people having fun dedicating their time to helping others build a new home on a Saturday in the summer?
“Many people have been helping each other a lot since (Superstorm Sandy). It forces people to get out of their own heads. There are no words to express the feeling you get while being a part of this. I’m definitely going to continue volunteering in the future,” she added.
Although Habitat’s Home Ownership Program is not accepting applications from individuals solely affected by Superstorm Sandy, the organization is taking Home Repair Program applications from local residents who have not received FEMA or insurance money and need help repairing damages. Visit hfhsoc.org/index.html or call 609-978-9984 for more information.
— Kelley Anne Essinger
This article was published in The SandPaper.