Thursday, June 04

Brookdale Newsroom

Students Help Displaced Sandy Victims Feel at Home

For those who remain displaced nearly 18 months after superstorm Sandy, home can sometimes feel very far away. Throughout the past few months, three teams of Brookdale interior design students and members of the Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA) have tried to fix that.

On June 4, the students and the AHA wrapped up their innovative House2Home program by unveiling three newly refurbished factory-built homes at the Pine Tree community in Eatontown.

After untold hours planning, painting and furnishing the homes for the displaced residents living there, the student volunteers said they were happy to help rebuild a sense of home.

“We feel heartfelt empathy for the trials and tribulations you have had to experience due to Hurricane Sandy,” said Jeannine Urban, House2Home project manager and a recent Brookdale graduate, addressing the residents.

“We only hope that you now have comforting and beautiful spaces that reflect our sincere desire to bring you normalcy, peace and happiness.”

Normalcy has been a foreign term to Olivia DeCellio, ever since her Highlands home was destroyed by Sandy. Displaced for nearly 18 months, she has lived with family and in temporary housing, making do with relatively few home furnishings.

She moved into one of the AHA’s 25 factory-built homes for Sandy victims in Pine Tree in February, preparing to wait up to a year for her new permanent home to be built. Upon seeing her redesigned temporary home for the first time, however, she joked that she is no longer in a rush to get back.

“I was hoping to get back there, but I don’t know. I like it here now,” she said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Beginning earlier this year, the Brookdale students coordinated directly with the families and with AHA, which manages a wide range of housing programs for Sandy impacted residents. Mirroring the work they one day hope to perform as professional designers, the students conducted client surveys and comprehensive interviews to gauge the needs and interests of the families.


Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy (center) tours a redesigned home with House2Home design competition winners Kat Minor, Rachael Engstrom, Kathleen Ward and Tess Henry.

For a home with two young boys, the student team of Kathleen Ward, Kat Minor, Tess Henry and Rachael Engstrom designed and installed a chalkboard wall, basketball-themed artwork, T-shaped bunk beds and a separate sofa bed in the living room.

For two displaced men who have become roommates since Sandy, the team of Avis Gardell, Maureen Sparnakel, Brianna McCaffrey and Julia Lissatchova chose dual recliners and a matching, two-tone paint pattern throughout the house. One of the men had lost a Jackson Pollock painting during the storm, so the team hung a matching print in his bedroom.

The team of Amanda Priore, Kelly McGuigan, Natalie Rosenthal and Brittany Bevilaqua transformed DeCellio’s home with new furniture, curtains, artwork and pastel accents in each room.

After touring the units and meeting with the teams, Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy said she was extremely impressed with both the designs and the students’ level of commitment to the project.

“I could not be more proud of our students,” said Murphy. “This project is a Brookdale trifecta:  our premier Interior Design program, a real-life learning experience for our students, and a service to very deserving people.  The results, as you can see, are beautiful.”

Each team had to work with a budget of $2,500 to $3,500, which was made available to the displaced residents through a state recovery program being administered by the AHA.

In order to close some budget gaps, the students had to solicit donations, contributions and volunteer aid from local businesses, friends and family members. Brookdale architecture students also volunteered to help paint the homes.

Bevilaqua joined her fellow students in saying the project taught her valuable practical skills regarding client relations, budget constraints and project deadlines. It was also extremely rewarding to see DeCillio’s reaction, she said.

“After meeting Olivia, and coming here and hearing her story, it hit us kind of hard,” she said. “She lost so much. It meant a lot to us to really give back to her. We just wanted her to be happy.”

Donna Blaze, Chief Executive Officer of AHA, said the project proved just how much can be achieved through cooperation and a spirit of volunteerism.

“It feels good to volunteer to make someone else happy, and it feels good to see people happy,” she said. “That’s what it comes down to. If we all work together, we make everybody’s life a little bit better. And that’s what you see here.”

House2Home was also an informal design competition among the teams. Local design professionals Galina Ubogiy, Beth Insabella Walsh and Ria Gulian toured the homes, ultimately declaring Minor’s team the winner. The selection, Ubogiy said, was not as important as the work that was done.

“It’s just breathtaking,” she said.  “You all are winners.”

Click here for more photos of the House2Home event.