Written by Pete Sheehan Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
After Massapequa resident Sol Goldstein and several friends helped finish building a house for a family 20 years ago for Habitat for Humanity, they had a question: “What do we do now?” They were all retired, had enjoyed working together and accomplishing something for a family in need, and wanted to do more.
“I was looking for something [to do] hands-on,” said Joe Botkin, of Williston Park, a retired principal, who had worked with Goldstein in building the home.
Soon, Goldstein, a retired technician and technical manager for ABC television, learned of a national volunteer organization based in Washington, D.C., that offered free home repairs for low-income seniors, persons with physical handicaps, veterans, and families with small children.
After sending $12 for a handbook, Goldstein and his friends began “Rebuilding Together Long Island,” now one of the 189 affiliates of “Rebuilding Together” around the country.
“It exploded,” Botkin said, attracting both people who needed home repairs and volunteers eager to do the work — everything from fixing a faucet to installing wheelchair access ramps to undertaking major repairs on homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The group, based in Massapequa, is working on opening an office in Farmingdale. They will celebrate their 21st anniversary at their annual dinner, May 22, at Stuart Thomas Manor, Farmingdale. For information, call 516-541-7322.
“There has been a greater demand for our services since Superstorm Sandy,” noted Bob Ellis, director of Rebuilding Together Long Island, their only paid staff member. The organization has made major repairs on seven houses devastated by the hurricane, including three in Massapequa.
“We average about 100 homes a year,” Goldstein, president of Rebuilding Together Long Island, said. “We have about 300 volunteers” working on houses around Long Island, especially in Western Suffolk and Nassau.
“The experience of helping people is fantastic,” said Botkin. “We’ve all had good lives and we’re happy to give back. Besides, it beats sitting inside the house and watching the boob tube.”
“Our volunteers are mostly retired and they get a lot of joy in the good they do and in working with each other,” Ellis said.
Rebuilding Together relies on financial donations as well as donations of materials, supplies, equipment, and time from contractors and craftsmen, and others.
“We wish we could do more,” Botkin said.
Organizations like The Long Island Board of Realtors and the Nassau County Bar Association work with Rebuilding Together, offering donations as well as recruiting volunteers to work alongside them.
Rebuilding Together receives referrals from social services agencies, churches and other houses of worship, and veterans’ organizations.
Their projects vary. The organization does light carpentry, plumbing and some electrical work, but for any new electrical work, they hire an electrician. “We also do sheet rock and spackling. We paint only what we repair.”
Their biggest projects have been hurricane repairs. “That might take us two weeks,” Goldstein said. “On one of those homes, we had to put in 50 sheets of sheet rock.”
Others have noted the organization’s accomplishments.
“We are engaged in a joint endeavor with them to help people who can’t afford home repairs,” said Elaine Leventhal, director of We Care, the charitable arm of the Nassau County Bar Association. “Our members, especially our Young Lawyers Committee, receive a lot of satisfaction working with them.”
Rebuilding Together also receives appreciation from those they have helped.
Cindy Johnson noted that Rebuilding Together built a ramp for her 93-year-old mother’s Massapequa Park home.
“It is a fantastic organization,” said Johnson.
Having the ramp has helped immensely for them to get their mother in and out of the house for medical treatment and even socially and recreationally.
“We took her outside for Mother’s Day and she said: ‘How wonderful it is to be in the sun,’” Johnson said.
“We also receive a lot of letters,” Goldstein said. “Many of them are heartwarming.”
“I’m very grateful for those wonderful people coming into my home and giving me the help that I needed very badly,” one Levittown woman wrote.
“Without your help, sometimes I think I would go under,” an Old Bethpage resident noted.
An 89-year-old Massapequa resident and her 92-year-old husband appreciated the work on their home, including a wheelchair ramp, which has helped her get safely in and out of their home for a doctor’s appointment, and also the installation of pull bars, which have helped him take showers without assistance.
“They did a magnificent job,” she wrote. “I cannot say enough to express my gratitude.”