The work of their group, S.T.A.R.T. (Stafford Teachers and Residents Together), is still ongoing. This upcoming and last weekend, Dunela and others helped one family move their furniture out in preparation of raising their home. “We also wound up moving about 80 heavy landscaping slabs so they wouldn’t get crushed by the construction equipment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Magino’s team was painting the rooms in Cindy Voorhees’s home on Jennie Drive. They will return this weekend to finish up, he said.
Voorhees insurance settlement was sent to the bank holding the mortgage and has been released incrementally as work on her raised property is completed, she said.
“The bank rep is coming next Tuesday. “So most of this needs to be done,” she said while furiously rolling paint onto a bedroom wall.
“With Joe’s help we should make it,” she added.
Voorhees and her disabled husband had lived full time in their home when Sandy hit.
“We had 50 inches of water in here when it was on the ground and my husband hasn’t been home since the storm,” she said.
Even with the insurance and a FEMA grant to raise the home, they still lost 400 square feet of living space, said Voorhees. “We needed to eliminate the great room to afford to raise the rest of the house with what we got,” she said. They also needed to put a lot of “sweat equity” into the rebuild as the FEMA and insurance money came up far short of what they needed, which is where S.T.A.R.T. came to their rescue.
The family was also swindled out of $15,000 of their initial FEMA payment when her original contractor took the deposit money and disappeared after stealing appliances and other salvageable items from her home, she said.
They then received some unexpected assistance from a South Carolina non-profit group, Port Light Strategies (http://www.portlight.org/),that gave her husband a power scooter and are installing a ramp to get him in and out of the newly raised home.
“I can’t thank them enough, they deserve all the thanks in the world, as does Joe and S.T.A.R.T.” she said.
The Start of S.T.A.R.T.
“It all started with me going over to help Joe and his wife who teaches at Ocean Acres Elementary” said Dunlea, a fellow teacher at Ocean Acres. “They then told me of another teacher that needed help, and then another and off we went,” he said.
The plan then was to help teachers and school employees each help each other gut their homes and start to get back on their feet. But the next day they learned of a family with a daughter in the second grade that needed help.
Then those they had helped and other teachers contacted them to pitch in and S.T.A.R.T. was born, he said.
“They showed up here like angels. Hard working angels,” said Angela McKibbins, of Eileen Drive, the mother of the first student family they helped.
Becky (Mangino) grabbed all her linen to wash it and when they came back they just began gutting the water-logged sheet rock, tearing out sopping carpets and hauling soaked furniture and clothing to the curb.
“They said, ‘There’s mold in here and we need to get it out,’” McKibbins said, adding she even had to watch as a brand new pair of sandals went in the trash. “That really hurt, I never spent $60 for shoes before,” she said smiling.
Later a school guidance counselor, Lisa DiBernardo, came to her home to gather up all her family photos. DiBernardo worked tirelessly for months on McKibbins and other families’ pictures to restore them as best she could, said Dunlea. “Losing memories we soon found out was really one of the hardest parts for some families,” he added.
As their work continued, the word spread around the community and on social media.
“We put up a Facebook page, circulated flyers and then the media started covering us and the NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) and national organization wrote about us, said Dunlea.
The publicity they received brought more volunteers and assistance, not only locally but from around the country. It also led to more and more requests for help, he said.
Even the military joined in, and in one instance he was very glad they did, said Dunlea
A group of reservists from Maguire Air Force Base came one weekend, he said. “We got to one home and there was a Vietnam War vet who had done nothing since the storm, but was still living in his house that had flooded,” he said. “We got there and he had the heat on and you could see the mold cooking on the walls,” said Dunlea.
At first, the man and his wife refused to let them rip out the sheetrock and carpets, but the airmen refused to leave until he let them gut the house, said Dunlea.
Then a few weeks later he received a check from a teachers’ group in Mobile, AL that had started a fund with money they had collected for their area's children after Hurricane Katrina.
“They decided to use what funds they had left over to help kids in other places hit by a natural disaster,” he said.
S.T.A.R.T. used the money to buy gift cards for three families to get Christmas presents for their children, said Dunlea.
About the time money began to come in, people were looking for assistance to begin rebuilding, not just gutting, said Mangino.
He had just been invited to attend a lunch meeting with the Jetty Rock Foundation and Waves for Water, two non-profit groups assisting Sandy victims.
“Jon Coen from Waves sent me an email to come join them,” said Mangino, “and from there we got involved with helping people start to rebuild and come back home.”
“Since we are not yet a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, we were just turning around any monies that were donated into gift cards or buying people what they needed,” he said. “Jetty and Waves were already doing that on a much larger scale, so it was great to join forces with them” added Mangino.
The S.T.A.R.T. volunteers now had access to a tractor trailer full of building supplies, clothing, water and more that Jetty Rock and Waves for Water kept stocked on an empty lot next to the Surf City library with grants from Home Depot and others.
What they needed next was a new type of volunteer, those with the training to help people rebuild, said Mangino. “Then and now we are looking for and finding people that have carpentry skills or can hang sheet rock and are willing to work with our volunteers to get people back into their homes,” he said.
One such project is coming up soon. They are helping a year round family “button up” their home and make it finally livable this winter, more than a year after the storm, he added.
All their efforts have not gone unnoticed or without thanks. In January, the two men were honored at a Stafford Township Council meeting, where during a presentation, Dunlea estimated S.T.A.R.T. to that date had saved residents nearly $2.5M in clean up costs.
Most recently the Martin Truex Foundation, founded by NASCAR driver and local resident Martin Truex, Jr., named Mangino and Dunlea their "Humanitarians of the Year" at the banquet following its annual golf tournament at Sea Oaks Country Club.
The award also carried a cash award. according to Mangino, who said it would go directly back to S.T.A.R.T.’s for future projects.
“We hope to have our non-profit status approved soon and are already looking at ways to help the community far beyond Sandy and into the future,” he said
For more information, to volunteer or to request assistance you can contact Dunlea at 609-488-0513 or Mangino at 908-783-2050. You can also visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/staffordteachersandresidentstogether