Rebuilding together in Far Rockaway

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October 05, 2013

"Four feet inside, eight feet outside. And not just water; sewage too. It smelled terrible." That was how Johnnie McQueen described the state of his home after Hurricane Sandy swept through Far Rockaway last year. He and his neighbors in this quiet affordable housing community just blocks from the beach lost just about everything on the ground floor - couches and bookshelves, photographs, even the walls and floors.

Most of them have rebuilt by now, but the memories remain, and what all of them remember the most was that no one was there to help them.

"There was no one around? said Jesus Bottaro, Johnnie's next-door neighbor. "I mean no one. Not a single policeman, National Guard, fireman, no one, not even a plane to survey the damage. We had no lights for weeks."

Today, Johnnie and his wife Cecelia, Jesus and his family, and another neighbor Brenda Montague finally got a break from what has been a long, hard year: Thirty-some volunteers from NRG Energy, Solar One, World Wildlife Fund, Vote Solar and the community installed solar electric systems on their rooftops that will save them more than eighty percent on their electrical bills going forward. The families came to GRID through Margert Community Corporation, a community-based organization that developed these houses and is working to help residents get their homes back together again and get on with their lives.

"Everything is different after Sandy," said Cecelia, who has been out of work on temporary disability for the past eight months. "We are still struggling financially. And there?s so much rebuilding we haven't done.

"Every dollar helps."

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered the day her 5 year-old grandson, who was living with her, came home and saw the mess. ?He said ?grandma, are all my things really gone?? That was the worst.? Cecelia plans to use part of her first month?s savings from solar to repair his toy truck, whose motor stopped working from the flood.

"This is truly a joyous moment," she said, as she and Johnnie flipped the switch on their system at the end of a long day. "Thank you."

It was an incredible way to end an incredible week of work on the East Coast. People like Johnnie and Cecelia and communities like Far Rockaway are the reason we came, and the reason we?re coming back for more. New York, New Jersey, see you in 2014!  Click here for media coverage of these installations.