By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – Saturday was a day of giving and grateful receiving for scores of volunteers and borough residents and business owners as they continue the arduous task of rebuilding their lives and community.
Highlands was abuzz on Saturday morning, April 27, as hundreds of volunteers arrived; some were part of Comcast’s Day of Community participation and others were from a variety of corporate entities and organizations. They came to spend much of the day assisting with the borough’s ongoing cleanup and recovery from Super Storm Sandy, which slammed the area six months ago.
“I think this is the final phase of the beginning to get Highlands back better than ever,” Mayor Frank L. Nolan said.
About 1,250 of approximately 1,500 residences in the borough’s lower area were damaged – 1,064 substantially – by Sandy. Many businesses in that area also were damaged, Nolan said.
The mayor’s own home was destroyed and he and his family joined many borough residents who spent time at the disaster shelter at Henry Hudson Regional High School.
Months later “we have a lot of folks that are getting back in their home,” Nolan said.
He also expects nearly 80 percent of businesses to be reopened by the Memorial Day weekend.
Before that happens, there is plenty of work to be done.
Lucille Lane, who lived on John Street for four years until the storm, hasn’t been able to move back while the home’s owner continues its restoration.
“I thought I would be in by now,” Lane said. It’s “still up in the air” as to when she can return home.
The small, modest residence was flooded with 6 feet of water that came rushing through during the storm surge, she said.
Last Saturday, a troop of volunteers, ranging from the very young to middle-age, were hauling out debris and trash from the property’s garage, where the force of the water had smashed the windows.
Kristen Hulanick, a Highlands resident who survived Sandy unscathed, was helping out.
“It’s by doing some of these little things,” Hulanick said while cleaning and hauling debris, “hopefully, it’ll start putting the pieces back together.”
Atlantic Highlands resident Dan Curtain agreed.
“Obviously, this community is not going to recover without people giving it a little bit of help,” Curtain said.
In addition to helping Lane, Curtain, his wife Tricia and other volunteers also offered to help Lynn Weber, an Atlantic Highlands woman who was working on a small bungalow that she and her ailing husband usually rent out for the summer season to supplement their income.
The structure looked severely damaged.
“When this first happened I thought everything was over,” Weber said. “I thought the only thing left was to sell the property. We thought there was no hope.”
But as she looked at all the people filling plastic trash bags, lifting and disposing of some of the trash that was strewn around, Weber said, “Now, with these people’s help we’re hoping we can save it and save the Jersey Shore.
“Just getting it cleaned up is of tremendous help,” Weber said.
“Little by little, there is a difference,” said Alissa Algarin of Highlands who was helping clean up the area.
Over on Central Avenue, Bronwyn Link’s home that she shares with her 17-year-old son, Jacob was flooded and damaged to the point that they haven’t been able to live there. They have been living in a small cottage, owned by a fellow First Aid Squad member, after spending 12 days last fall in the shelter.
Link said she’s begun work rehabilitating the home with the help of volunteers who have stripped the floors and walls, and others from Habitat for Humanity who put up sheetrock. A group of volunteers, some of them employees of the Sherwin-Williams paint company, spent Saturday painting the interior of Link’s home.
“It’s overwhelming, it’s so wonderful,” she said as she looked at the work being done and with the knowledge that she would be getting a new queen-sized bed from Love INC, a religious- based charitable organization. “It would take me a year or longer,” to do the work herself.
When asked why she was spending her day working on someone else’s home, Highlands resident Mary Jane Suruda said, “If I tell you, I’ll start crying.” With a minimum of tears, she explained that the borough is her community and she felt a need to participate.
“Everything looks better than it did,” said Suruda as she looked around the neighborhood. “But it’s still a sad time.”
George Przybylski, who came from Broomall, Pa., is a Sherwin-Williams employee, and said he’s seen “people who’ve lost quite a bit … To give a few hours, that’s nothing.”
Sherwin-Williams provided about 30 volunteers and 250 gallons of paint. “We can add a little color and brightness,” to homes and businesses, said Mark Sposito, a company vice president.
Comcast also had a large number of volunteers offer their services and the company donated $25,000 to the Highlands Business Partnership for its Hope for Highlands charitable organization to assist residents and businesses.
“We know there is a longstanding need here,” said Kim Smith, Comcast’s director of community investment.
“I think we’re progressing pretty well compared to other communities. I think we’ll get there,” Councilwoman Rebecca Kane said, “but we have to realize it’s going to take time.”
As volunteers worked on homes and businesses, members of the members of New Jersey State Fireman’s Benevolent Association were at Veterans Park working to construct one of the 26 playgrounds to be built in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut region to honor the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting. In addition to the project, called Where Angels Play, association members tore up the borough’s destroyed boardwalk along the park’s waterfront to make way for a new one.