By John Burton
HIGHLANDS — The continuing recovery of this hard-hit borough took another step forward as volunteers took on work at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6902.
“It’s always nice to help other people,” said Keri Monihan of Haddon Heights as she picked up a paint roller last Friday and began putting a new coat on the 331 Bay Ave. post, which was severely damaged by Super Storm Sandy last year.
Monihan, a systems analyst for Verizon, was one of more than 30 volunteers to help get the site back in shape. Volunteers came from Verizon; Scripps Networks Interactive, the company behind such cable TV networks as HGTV, DIY Network and the Food Network; Rebuilding Together, a charitable group that renovates community centers and homes for low-income homeowners; and area residents.
Joining the group was interior designer Tiffany Brooks, winner of this year’s “HGTV Star” and host of the network’s “Most Embarrassing Rooms.”
“This is like home to me,” said Brooks who comes from Antioch, Ill., a small community, not unlike Highlands, where she spent time in that community’s VFW hall.
Brooks, holding a paintbrush, insisted she was looking forward to the day’s work. “Painting is surprisingly therapeutic,” she said. “It’s like coloring is for children.”
Jeff Chrzanowski, a Verizon spokesman, said his company and the others have been looking for and doing projects.
“There were so many people that needed help it was hard to decide,” he said. The VFW post was a good candidate because the scope of the work wasn’t too substantial. “It was something that we could do, make a difference, with the level of time and volunteers available,” he said.
Other points that made the VFW post project a strong candidate for assistance were that it would allow volunteers to help those directly affected by Sandy and would assist local veterans close to Veterans Day.
Volunteers were divided into teams that would paint much of the building’s exterior and interior, replace ceiling tiles and spruce up the Bay Avenue property.
Last year the post was swamped by 3 feet of floodwater that left inches of mud and damaged the structure and the equipment inside, according to Donald Manrodt, the post quartermaster.
Post and community members stepped up to help get the post operating by January but more help was needed. Despite getting help from other posts, including the American Legion Post 338 in Leonardo, the Highlands post ran out of funds to complete the work. Manrodt and others were very grateful for the volunteer effort. “To have these people come in here, it’s a really great help,” said the 81-year-old Korean War veteran.
The post has about 108 members but as much as 80 percent have been unable to return to Highlands. Because of the damage, the post has not been able to be rent out its facility for small parties.
Membership and rental fees were the main sources of income to keep the facility afloat, Manrodt said.
The post also makes the facility available to veterans free of charge for such things as funeral repasts, he added.
“How could you not give back to an organization like that?” asked Chrzanowski, the Verizon spokesman.
The borough is largely a working class community. The storm and its aftermath – even with the help the community has received – has taxed its ability to rebound, Mayor Frank Nolan said.
“Without the help of volunteers over this last year doing these types of projects, we wouldn’t have been able to get this far along,” he said.