Driving up to the house, it’s easy to assume that the Fortiers are well-off. The new modular home installed along the lagoon fits in with the surrounding houses, and if it wasn’t for the little Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group sign by the road, you might not know that their home had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. But 22 months later, Debbie and Tom Fortier are still in the process of recovering.
When I met with them to hear their story, Debbie and Tom were quick to admit they are the last people to ask for help. Even after 3 ½ feet of water flooded their home, they felt they would be able to rebuild with little or no assistance. Debbie and Tom set out to save their home, where they’ve lived for 25 years, only to find the foundation had been damaged. The house was demolished, and Debbie and Tom knew they would have to swallow their pride and reach out for help.
But navigating the maze to sustainable recovery can be overwhelming. They applied for several grants, and were caught in a cycle of starting and stopping work as they waited to be approved. That’s when their pastor at Brick Presbyterian Church stepped in. He knew the Fortiers as leaders in the church – Tom is a Deacon, and both he and his wife lead the Junior High Youth Group. But he also knew the Fortiers would have a hard time accepting help. As Debbie puts it, “It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that you’re needy.” Luckily, their pastor pointed them in the direction of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group.
Despite their mixed feelings, the Fortiers made the call to OCLTRG. Now, 10 months into their recovery, Debbie and Tom agree that it was the “best thing that ever happened.” Disaster Case Manager Eva Meyers guided them through the grant process, and secured rental assistance for the months they’ve been out of their home. She worked with them as the modular home company delayed installation month after month until finally, in April of 2014, the Fortiers had their new modular home in place.
Since then, OCLTRG has been able to help with electricity, HVAC, flooring, and cabinetry. And thanks to our new partnership with A Future with Hope the Fortiers have had a steady stream of volunteers from across the country helping put their new home together. The help from OCLTRG, combined with volunteer efforts, is making sure the Fortiers can get back in their home as soon as possible. “We are just so grateful,” says Debbie. “Meeting with the volunteers, you feel like you get to share their stories and learn about their lives.”
Despite headaches, setbacks, and heartache, Debbie and Tom can now stand in their new house and know that soon, it will be a home.