VENTNOR — Richard Battaglia worked for months to slowly make repairs to his Wissahickon Avenue home, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
But money was tight. Federal aid he’d received had been spent, and Battaglia, 58, just couldn’t afford to finish the job.
But by tonight, most of the work to replace flooring, walls and even appliances will be finished, done by a crew from a new TV show called “Honey Do,” along with workers from Discovery Communications and Habitat for Humanity.
Battaglia, a casino worker who has lived in the area all his life, said the entire event has seemed like a dream. He shook hands Friday with Gov. Chris Christie, he was interviewed for coming television shows and, even better, he will be able to move back home soon.
“This restored my faith in humanity. ... It’s like, wow, people are beautiful,” Battaglia said as he stood watching a camera crew shoot promotional clips. “When everybody is gone, I’m gonna go, ‘Did that just happen? Did I have TV stars here?’ Luckily, I took pictures of it.”
Discovery partnered with Habitat to rebuild 10 Sandy-damaged houses in Ventnor as part of Habitat for Humanity of Atlantic County’s blitz build in Ventnor. The Maryland-based media company, which owns cable networks including TLC and Animal Planet, partnered with Habitat for Humanity to bring 125 of its workers, including stars from several shows, to Ventnor for a three-day project rebuilding 10 houses in the city.
Next week, ShopRite will give Habitat $75,000 toward the rebuilding effort.
One Dorset Avenue house, owned by Miguel Guzman and Renee Testa, was repaired by a team from the show “Cake Boss” for a special episode that will run in August. Testa, Guzman and their daughter, Bella Guzman, have been out of their Ventnor Heights home since the storm, which sent up to 3 feet of water inside.
The family lived for four months in a motel room on the Black Horse Pike and now is living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in Egg Harbor Township, Miguel Guzman said. While they had gutted the house within a month of the storm, they struggled to find money for repairs and to replace all of their belongings.
Bella and the family had several moments with Christie as he toured their house and wrote a message on a piece of drywall.
Having such a celebrity-filled event to put their house back together was “a blessing,” Guzman said. “It’s a surprise. To have the governor actually come to our house to see what’s going on is very unexpected.”
Christie, who arrived in Ventnor via helicopter from a campaign stop in Burlington County, spoke at a brief event along with the star of “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro.
“All the folks that are here today, you’re making such a great impact on all these families and their hopes to get their lives back to normal again,” Christie said.
The building event, which began Thursday, is the first for Ventnor since Sandy struck Oct. 29. Habitat for Humanity of Atlantic County began searching for residents to participate in the program in April. The organization has about five families waiting but not enough money so far to accomplish the construction work they think will be needed, board Chairman Rick Ricciardi said.
Another major problem, Ricciardi said, was finding families who are willing to allow Habitat for Humanity and other volunteer groups to help with rebuilding.
“I think there’s a degree of skepticism (residents) have for people who say they are here to help you,” he said.
Ricciardi said he hopes the rebuilding projects will change that sentiment.
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