sb st bernard 1 032614Americorps volunteers painting the framework of Desiree Pierce’s home Wednesday to encapsulate any lingering mold. Below, Pierce and daughter, Gigi Burke, have been displaced from their home since Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


sb gigi desiree 032614People who’ve never been through something like Hurricane Sandy don’t understand, says Gigi Burke.

“They don’t understand losing everything,” the 23-year-old Sea Bright resident said. “And then, they don’t understand the process and steps it takes to get back into your home.”

In the 500-plus days since Burke, her two siblings and their mother lost use of their New Street home to the surging Shrewsbury River and Atlantic Ocean, she’s heard “the question” from people who’ve temporarily put her up more than once.

“It was basically, ‘when are you leaving?’ but in a nice way,” she said Wednesday, amid of a flurry of rebuilding activity finally getting underway at her home.

dina long 032614Speaking to a crowd from Pierce’s porch, Mayor Dina Long noted her own house directly across the street, which remains uninhabitable. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The activity was the doing of the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

At a kickoff ceremony held at the home of Burke’s mother, Desiree Pierce, St. Bernard officials and representatives of other organizations said the work was the beginning of a campaign to rehabilitate 100 home over the next two years in Sea Bright, Rumson and Highlands. Volunteers from Americorps will handle the bulk of the construction work under the oversight of paid building experts.

Pierce, a customer service worker for Jet Blue at Newark International Airport, reeled off more than a half-dozen addresses she’s stayed at since the storm.

“The hardest part is trying to keep up with everybody [in the family] and hold onto my job,” she told redbankgreen. She and Burke are now renting space in a house down the block from their own.

The rehab project is “so important” to those struggling with both the indignity of homelessness and practical difficulties of dealing with insurance claims, government assistance programs and uncertainty, Mayor Dina Long said at the ceremony.

Standing on Pierce’s porch, Long pointed to her own home, directly across the street.

“Looks good from the outside,” she said. “But it’s gutted to the studs.”

She added: “Some version of my story is repeated exponentially up and down the Jersey Shore.”

Chris Wood, Sea Bright Rising co-founder, said the St. Bernard Project is hoping to raise $2.5 million to fund the repairs. Donations may be made here.