After Hurricane Sandy, Riheem Harris went over to Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City to help with the distribution of food and donations that came pouring into the city.
"Pastor (Collin) Days has helped me and my family, so I wanted to see if he needed help," Harris said. "I've been here ever since."
After working as a volunteer for months, Harris received training and a job as the volunteer coordinator for the Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group, working to make sure the groups of volunteers coming into the city to help residents rebuild have sites ready for them, and meals and a place to sleep.
"They graced me with this position," Harris, 30, said.
"No, he graced us," said Richard Grzywinski, head of the ACLTRG.
As recovery efforts move into rebuilding projects, and the process becomes more structured and organized, some federal funding has been made available to hire a base group of workers to manage the process, some of them former volunteers now being paid to do what they had been doing for free.
Grzywinski started on the board of the ACLTRG and is currently acting director, an unpaid position. The group is based at the Second Baptist Church, at 110 Rev. Dr. Issac S Coles Plaza, and is working to help residents, especially low-income homeowners with limited funds, rebuild their homes. Currently they have 38 homes budgeted for repairs, and another 64 waiting to be put in the system. Shirlene Hoskins runs the financial end, managing the almost $670,000 budget.
Harris coordinates the volunteer groups willing to come in to help rebuild.
"It's very important to coordinate so we can be sure houses are ready when they arrive," Harris said. "Groups will contact us about coming in, and we'll work out what their skill level is."
Many of the groups are faith- or social service-based, but professional organizations of builders, plumber and electricians have also sent teams. Each group must have skilled workers to make sure the work is done properly.
Harris said groups are scheduled in the city through August, with most coming for five or six days. About 100 people at a time can be housed in the former casino school now owned by the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, where they are given breakfast and dinner on site by the mission staff and sleep on cots. A portable shower trailer is hooked up outside.
Harris said many people don't understand how many homes are still seriously damaged. Many are basement apartments, where the homeowner lives upstairs.
"The warmer it gets, the mold gets worse," he said. A Sandy survivor himself whose home was damaged, Harris said he feels blessed to be able to help others rebuild.
"It really is a wonderful position to be able to coordinate this," he said.
Contact Diane D'Amico:
Atlantic City residents who need help rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy can contact the Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group at 609-541-2189.