Friday, August 1, 2014


We spent Friday installing drywall and applying drywall mud.   The house is now beginning to resemble what it looked like before flooring and drywall were removed for the plumbing inspection.  We felt that we had made a significant contribution towards returning the house to not only a livable condition for the owner, but also in far better condition than it was before Hurricane Sandy came through.




While we were there the electric utility company and electrical contractor replaced the power line from the pole to the house and installed permanent outlets for use by future teams.

We celebrated our week here with a dinner at the Anchorage Bar and Grille, where we enjoyed delicious seafood dinners on the front porch, with a view of the harbor.

Reflecting on our experience here this week, it could be viewed something like peeling back the skins of an onion.   At a physical level, our initial impression when we arrived was “so where was the hurricane?”    Everything looked normal.   As the week progressed and we began driving around the area, we began to realize that a significant number of new homes were under construction, and many others appear to have been recently renovated.   When we stepped into the two houses we worked on, the impact of the storm damage hit us solid in the face.
At an emotional level, the people we met seemed normal, but as we talked to more of them, and begin to learn of their experiences during and after the storm, we began to appreciate the stress they have, and in some cases continue to deal with because of this historical storm.   And we only have experienced the relatively minor damage, compared to areas north of us.   We’re appreciative of the opportunity that Farmington First and A Future With Hope have provided us to contribute to the recovery effort here, and hope that we can come back again.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Thursday was another beautiful, sunny day in Ocean City, as we continued work at the Simpson Avenue house.   Ron and Frank spent most of the day laying new subfloor in two rooms – Ron measuring and sawing and Frank screwing down the panels.   Rev. Marshall and Pat began installing drywall in another room.


The history of the house presented unique challenges for us.  We learned that the house had been built over a number of years, with numerous renovations and additions, using a hodgepodge of construction techniques.   Fitting the subfloor and drywall was interesting, to say the least.    In the afternoon the plumbers showed up to get the water running into the house.   We were somewhat miffed to find them removing one of the floor panels we had laid the previous day.


We learned from our host site coordinator that A Future With Hope only began renovation of the house last May.   The owner was so reluctant to move out to allow the renovation that a minister had to convince her to move.

The owner’s next-door neighbor, who had lived there for fifty years, told us that her home had some water damage, but less than our house.   When Sandy approached, she evacuated to Delaware.  The Baptist church she attended at the end of the block had extensive damage on the first floor; the refrigerator floating in the flood water.   Behind our house an existing house is being raised, we estimate about twelve feet off the ground.   Around the corner, another house, including its attached garage, is being raised to a similar height.    Many other surrounding homes, current and new, have already been raised.


Seven members of Somers Point UMC came to the parsonage to serve us dinner (hamburger, hot dogs, beans, watermelon, etc.), where we had fun talking about the Detroit Lions (one young man proudly wearing his Lions T-shirt), and learning about challenges they, their friends and neighbors were confronted with during Sandy.  Their conversations gave us a better appreciation of the scope of the damage here and the depth of the frustrations experienced during the renovation process.  Afterwards, they gave us a tour of their church.

It’s off to bed now for a well-deserved sleep.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Your mission team had busy and challenging work days on Tuesday and Wednesday.   We spent all day Tuesday working with the team from Maryland at the Wildwood home.     Among the projects we worked on were cutting and painting the baseboard trim, for the Maryland team to install, touching up minor defects on the walls, working together to complete installation of the bamboo laminate floors and painting the posts on the rear porch.  The most challenging task was installing the kitchen cabinets.    It turned out that the design Lowes prepared for the kitchen was incorrect, the cabinets delivered did not match the design, and one of the cabinets was severely damaged.    After a great deal of head-scratching and consultation with our Construction Foreman Paul Codella, a solution was figured out, and plans were made to return unneeded cabinets, ordering replacements and transferring a drawer from one unit to another.

 Wednesday brought a splitting up of the team.    Ron stayed behind to help complete installation of the kitchen cabinets.    One of the Maryland team members purchased curtain material and rods, borrowed a sewing machine from Paul and made curtains for the homeowners.    The Maryland folks completed replacement of the interior window mouldings.  Marshall, Pat and Frank picked up work on a house on the west side of Ocean City, a couple of blocks away from the bridge connecting Somers Point and Ocean City.

 This new project has a significantly different set of challenges.   Being on the west side of the island, the water from Sandy pushed 4 to 4 ½ feet of water eastwards on to the shore.    The biggest part of the reconstruction of this home, which appears to have been built in the 1920s, went into bringing the house up to code.  The entire plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems had to be replaced, plus numerous structural modifications had to be made.   About a third of the first floor and portions of the drywall had been removed for the plumber inspection to be made, so the balance of the week we expect to be re-installing the flooring and drywall.

Lest you think that it has been all work and no play for us, we have explored some of the extensive recreation resources of this resort area.   Tuesday morning, on the way to Wildwood, we decided to take a scenic thirty or so mile tour along the barrier islands, through the towns of Ocean City, Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon and Stone Harbor.   Each one was filled with picturesque wood-framed houses, intriguing shops, restaurants and marinas and miles of sandy beaches.  That evening, we visited the small Somers Point public beach to watch the harbor and the changing lights on the Ocean City bridge.   Wednesday evening we explored the Ocean City boardwalk, along with thousands of other tourists.   Ron invited us to join him for a ferris wheel ride, from which we took in a great view of the boardwalk, beach and town.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A Future With Hope Mission Team

            After a long but pleasant drive Saturday and Sunday, our mission team arrived in Somers Point, New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.  We met Heidi Hibbs, our host from the organizing group and also one of the 35 or so active members of the Somers Point UMC that is hosting us in their parsonage (their current pastor has his own home.)

            On Monday morning, we gathered with another mission team from Maryland, which is staying several miles away at the Seaville UMC, for a brief instructional and organizational meeting.  It was decided that the two teams will work together, for at least Monday and Tuesday, at a small house in the resort community of Wildwood—about 35 minutes south of where we are staying—in hopes of getting the 84 year old homeowner finally back into her home, which was rendered unlivable after Super Storm Sandy over two years ago.

            Prior to our arrival, previous crews removed approximately 80 cubic yards (3 large dumpsters) full of damaged belongings, as well as rotting drywall and other building materials that were damaged by the storm.  Wildwood is a community of approximately 5,400 year round residents, that swells to over 250,000 in the summer months! (That is not a misprint.)  Together, our teams stained a new back fence (built by previous teams), finish sanded and mudded the last of the drywall, installed new flooring, and cut, trimmed and painted baseboard molding throughout the small house.  Tomorrow, we will finish the fence, finish installing the moldings, and place the new kitchen cabinets.  After we leave, contractors will finish installing the electrical wiring, install the plumbing fixtures in the kitchen and bathroom, and connect the Heating and Cooling ducts, and the house will be ready for occupancy at last!

We are tired—and a bit sore—but feeling very gratified to help make a difference in the life of this homeowner, who has been struggling with being displaced from her home, and distraught at the loss of all her possessions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


As too often it seems to be the case these days, with cable news networks and social media making news increasingly available to us, significant events – particularly those like Hurricane Sandy which involve long-term recovery efforts – seem to get quickly pushed off the front pages by more recent news.   The reality for the residents of New Jersey and adjacent states affected by Hurricane Sandy is that even though a great deal of recovery has occurred since October, 2012, many families are still struggling to restore their lives from the damage wrought by this major natural disaster.

Super Storm Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and the deadliest hurricane to hit the northeast in 40 years.   At least 146 people died across the U.S., directly or indirectly.  More than 650,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, with a total damage cost estimated at $50 billion.  At its peak, over 8.5 million people were out of power.  Two feet of heavy snow was dumped on West Virginia.  As we well remember here in Michigan, many of us lost power from the winds, and twenty-foot waves were churned up in southern Lake Michigan.


New Jersey sustained the second-costliest damage, behind New York.  Approximately 346,000 households were destroyed or damaged, along with approximately 25,000 recreational boats.  One hundred and ninety thousand businesses were affected.  In some areas, the seas completely washed over barrier islands, into the bays behind them.   Sinkholes swallowed vehicles, homes were shoved off their foundations and tons of sand were pushed inland.   At one point, approximately 800 people in Moonachie were stranded by high water.  In Seaside Heights, one of the hardest-hit areas, parts of an amusement park were sucked into the ocean.   In the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, only 60 of 2,600 homes escaped damage.  A 129-mile stretch of the Garden State Parkway was temporarily closed because of flooding.


Somers Point and the surrounding area, being near where the eye of Sandy made landfall, experienced relatively less damage than northern New Jersey, but the effects were still significant.   Residents said that the flooding was the worst they had ever experienced.  In Margate, north of Somers Point, water up to three feet deep invaded homes.  Wind damage was extensive.   Residents of West Atlantic City who remained through the mandatory evacuation reported two feet of standing water in their homes as well as decks being ripped off of their homes.  Photos provided by the Egg Harbor Township Police Department showed houseboats lying in the middle of the street along the Black Horse Pike.

Within Somers Point, there was extensive damage to piers and boat ramps.    The greatest amount of damage was due to shore erosion at a park.   City officials decided to immediately appropriate funds to make repairs, rather than waiting for help from FEMA or insurance companies, so that residents and visitors would be able to resume using the facilities by the following summer.

Four months after the storm, local residents forced out or their homes were still living in FEMA-funded hotels.    There was no evidence that FEMA trailers were provided, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina.   Eleven months after the storm, planning officials in Ocean County (Somers Point is at the southern end) estimated that 26,000 people were still unable to use damaged or destroyed homes.

In Ocean City, there was a dividing line of suffering on the island. Those who lived in older homes - those built before the town really tightened its codes, adhering to what's called federal 'velocity maps' showing areas of storm surge - were the ones still homeless. They were the FEMA nomads lodged in the cut-rate hotels.

But Cynda Hollenbaugh, a sales associate with Monihan Realty in Ocean City, says the homes built in later years - the ones elevated off the ground and reinforced against wind, rain and flood water - were as good as new. All it took was a week's worth of back-breaking cleaning following Sandy.  Ocean City’s boardwalk was undamaged, and most businesses expected to be back in operation by the following summer.   

Five days after the storm Earl New, Director of Accusource Services, an emergency flood and fire restoration company, anticipated that most homes in the area could be restored within the next four to five months, but the rate of real recovery, he said, was dependent upon a number of variables including the amount and type of damage, potential FEMA assistance and the response of the insurance companies.  Homeowners located within high-risk areas of the updated FEMA flood zone maps face the difficult decision of raising their homes higher off the ground, paying higher flood insurance premiums (up to $31,000/year) or abandoning their property.   For some people, the emotional toll of Sandy will be hard to overcome.

Heidi Hibbs, our host site coordinator at Somers Point UMC advised us that we’ll likely see little exterior damage remaining when we arrive.   We’ve been told by their construction coordinator that we’ll spend most of our time with drywall mudding and sanding, painting, interior trim installation, and possibly rebuilding the roof on a porch.

A ray of hope for those affected by the storm was that for the most part, in their greatest hour of need, families and the communities – not the government – were the most helpful sources of assistance and support.  An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey overwhelmingly found friends, relatives and neighbors to be the people who most often helped survivors make it through.

Frank Wassilak

Sources:  Associated Press, CBS Philly, Press of Atlantic City, PENNLive The Patriot-News,, The Current of Egg Harbor Township, Newsworks,, Time Magazine



Sunday, July 20, 2014


Your 2014 Hurricane Sandy mission team, Pat Bradley, Rev. Marshall, Ron Smedley and Frank Wassilak, have been assigned to a host camp site at the Somers Point United Methodist Church.   As a matter of introduction to our trip blogs, we thought it would be helpful to provide you with some background on the area where we’ll be working.


As the satellite photo above shows, Somers Point is located on a low, narrow peninsula, surrounded by salt marshes, within Great Egg Harbor and about ten miles southwest of Atlantic City.   The shorelines are liberally sprinkled with small-boat marinas.    Somers Point is primarily a residential community, with a relatively large proportion of its residents employed in professional services or executive positions in Somers Point and neighboring communities.  At the 2010 United States Census, there were 10,795 people, 4,655 households, and 2,826 families residing in the city.   The largest employer is the local hospital.

About two miles southeast of the town, on one of the barrier islands, is Ocean City, a community founded in 1879 by four Methodist ministers as a “proper Christian summer resort”.   No liquor has ever been allowed to be sold at this popular resort, which includes an eight-mile long beach and  many family recreation, shopping and dining opportunities.


Somers Point was once known as the Somerset Plantation.  Its settlement started around 1693, making it the oldest settlement in Atlantic County.  Somers Point was designated as a port of entry in 1791 and remained one until it was abolished in 1915.

Quaker John Somers and the other early settlers lived and worked in the area, mainly in fishing, farming, wood-cutting, and other small trades.

Although most of the area was quiet during the revolutionary war, many Somers Point ship owners were privateers holding “letters of marquee” permitting them to seize British ships. Knowledge of the deep channel streams passable by large craft allowed these privateers to hide the booty of ships and their valuable contents nearby, which they would later sell at auction.

Shipbuilding increased after the Revolution and was a dominant industry up to near the end of the 19th century.   Toward the end of the nineteenth century and following the development of Atlantic City, Somers Point, like other shore towns, began to attract tourists who had discovered the joys of recreational swimming, sailing, and fishing.

The most famous son of Somers Point is Master Commandant Richard Somers, who is the great-grandson of settler John Somers.    Somers is remembered for his daring effort during the Barbary Coast Wars to destroy the remaining ships of the Libyan fleet. He, along with 11 volunteers and a stow-a-way sailor, rechristened a captured ship called the Intrepid as the Inferno, and packed it with explosives. They then sailed it into Tripoli Harbor where they were to light a 15-minute fuse and escape in two rowboats.   After more than an hour the black harbor mouth was split wide in a blinding flash, and the roar of a great explosion rumbled out.   There were no survivors.  Somers’ courageous deeds are immortalized in the words of the US Marine Corps song “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”

Frank Wassilak

Google Earth
"Completion of the Historic Preservation Project Report and Plan Element”
City of Somers Point
Bay Front Historic District