Thanks for Your Amazing Work

It’s hard to believe that we moved out of our office at Arverne Pilgrim Church six months ago, and that our work in Rockaway is almost complete.

We had a good run. We worked in over 430 homes, and helped to rebuild 30. We worked alongside almost 2000 volunteers, and worked with individuals and groups from as far away as Alaska, as well as Rockaway locals. Now, as we wrap up the last of our work, it’s time, yet again, to say thanks.

We want to thank everyone who has worked for recovery in the Rockaways, and those who continue to do so. A special thanks goes out to Pastor Dennis Loncke and his family, who quite literally took us in and gave us a home at Pilgrim Church of Arverne. Thanks to Sal Lopizzo, who opened up his organization YANA to anyone and everyone who wanted to be a part of the relief effort. Thanks to all those who gave us advice, a place to stay, P100 respirators, Tyvek suits, held benefits for our work, or donated their expertise to help us help others. Thanks to the volunteers who kept coming back, through the bitter cold and the sweltering heat, to scrub mold, carry debris, put up sheetrock, and even just help us maintain our headquarters and equipment. It was a job we couldn’t do on our own.

We continue to help where we can, and we’ll keep you posted!

R&R Brings Mold Help to Central New York

Even those of us who keep an eye peeled for news of natural disasters may have missed the recent flooding in Central New York’s Herkimer. Oneida, and Otsego Counties. If you missed it, too, you can read about the storm’s initial impact here and here.

Thanks to the help of our amazing volunteer Sarah VanDenbergh, a native of the recently devastated region, R&R was able to travel to Oneida and Herkimer Counties to help flood-affected residents grapple with an impending mold epidemic. First, Sarah arrived on the scene, connected with locally-run volunteer groups, and assessed the damage. Once again, we found ourselves working against the clock to dispel myths about what works and what doesn’t when fighting mold growth, and measuring moisture levels in residents’ homes to help them determine the best way forward. This time, however, Sarah took the wheel, since relief efforts are much more effective when guided by locals.

Sarah became an expert mold detector and mold slayer by leading volunteer teams every weekend for nearly 8 months in Rockaway Beach after Sandy.

Sarah became an expert mold detector and mold slayer by leading volunteer teams every weekend for nearly 8 months in Rockaway Beach after Sandy.

Unfortunately, wherever we go, we find ourselves coming up against the same faulty assumptions about how to rid one’s house of mold. Many people think bleach is sufficient for remediating mold, and many are unaware that a home must be thoroughly dried out with very powerful dehumidifiers in order to truly tackle the issue. Still others buy products that are not intended for the scope of a flood-induced infestation. When Sarah reported back on the scope of the disaster and the lack of assistance in the area, we loaded up our trusty truck and headed upstate.

Ravin and Ian prep for R&R's trip Upstate.

Ravin and Ian prep for R&R’s trip Upstate.

If you’re reading this, please help us spread the word: When a home has been flooded, BLEACH IS NOT THE SOLUTION FOR KILLING MOLD. While everyone uses bleach to fight the type of mold we see in our bathrooms or kitchens, bleach is not intended for killing large scale mold growth after flooding, and is not intended for use on porous surfaces like wood that will only be made more moist and more susceptible to mold after the initial bloom is wiped off.

The correct tool for killing mold is a wire brush, not bleach.

The correct tool for killing mold is a wire brush, not bleach.

At our peak, Respond & Rebuild had six relief volunteers in Central, NY. Geoff, Gabi, Ravin, Sharmini, and Terri headed up with drying equipment and other tools and met Sarah to coordinate a response. The weekend was spent drying out flooded homes, removing debris, and talking to community members about best practices to stay safe and rebuild healthfully after a flood. Many of the issues we encountered were much the same as they were in NYC. It was mainly the backdrop that was different.

It was the first time we double parked next to one of these vehicles!

It was the first time we double parked next to one of these vehicles!

Sarah and Ravin stayed for a bit, and in total conducted 3 mold information sessions, gutted 3 homes, dried out several more, and assessed 50 homes and consulted with residents there on the best way forward. Sarah’s local hometown news channel caught her work in action, and she was featured on CBS Albany in this video.

We want to thank Sarah and everyone who spent their days off helping residents make a little more sense of flood recovery. We know it’s not easy, and for those in Central NY, where FEMA has not authorized financial assistance to individual residents, recovery efforts are that much tougher.

Check out what we’ve been able to accomplish, thanks to YOU!!!


We know we can get pretty wrapped up in our work, but we decided it was time to step back and look at where’ve we’ve been so we can figure out where we’re headed next. Our awesome volunteer and team leader Myriam Wiesenfeld recently sat down and used her artistry skills to distill a file cabinet’s worth of data about what we do into this easy to read, pretty to look at graphic that explains how we’ve put our resources to work.

What We've Accomplished | Respond & Rebuild

It’s pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves.

And really YOU are to thank! The vast, vast majority of our funding has come from grassroots supporters like you, and almost all of the work we’ve been able to do has been at the hands of unpaid volunteers with a little extra time and a big heart. So whether you’ve contributed labor hours, car rides, advice, hugs, encouragement, tools, or cold hard cash, thanks for making this all possible. We can’t thank you enough.

And if you want to thank Myriam for putting this together for us, tell people to check out her amazing artwork on her Tumblr.

T-shirts and Beach Towels and Tote Bags, Oh My!

Exciting news never stops coming over here in Rockaway, and this week is no exception.

First off, at long last, we got R&R t-shirts! We’ve been waiting for a long, long time, and we think they’re pretty high fashion.

Thanks to Wieden + Kennedy for these great new shirts!

Thanks to Wieden + Kennedy for these great new shirts!

YOU can get your hands on one of these in two ways. One, you can come by and volunteer and buy one on your way out. Alternately, if you’ve already volunteered with us and can’t make it back, we can ship them, too! The shirts are $20 and proceeds go toward R&R’s work in Rockaway. Please stay tuned–we’ll soon have tote bags and other goodies as well!

In other big news, One Kings Lane has partnered with Steven Alan to support R&R’s work through the sales of an exclusive collection of designer beach towels. We think they would come in handy if volunteers want to take a dip after a long day of Sandy Aid…We also think they’re pretty cute.

Thanks to Steven Alan and One Kings Lane for supporting recovery in Rockaway!

Thanks to Steven Alan and One Kings Lane for supporting recovery in Rockaway!

Last but certainly not least, R&R would like to thank the Occupy Sandy Local Business Registry for helping us fund the rebuilding of a Rockaway home. With their help, R&R is assisting a Rockaway retiree in moving out of a hotel and back into her home. We couldn’t do it without you! Be sure to check out opportunities to help in Rockaway recovery efforts here.

National Volunteer Week and the Six Month Sandy Anniversary

In honor of National Volunteer Week and the six month Sandy-versary we wanted to interview one of our amazing volunteers to see what it is that inspires him to keep up the good work after all this time, and what others are thinking about the state of the recovery efforts.

When we started poking around for an interview, since our new friend Ravin Shah is around almost every weekend as a dedicated team leader, he was an easy target!

Ravin teaches a journalist about our mold remediation methods.

Ravin teaches a journalist about our mold remediation methods.

When Sandy hit, Ravin was in his hometown of Edison, NJ, where he volunteers with Edison’s First Aid Squad and the NJ EMS Task Force. He was on call for whatever might happen during the storm. As it turned out, he spent a busy 2 weeks working primarily in New Jersey, dealing with downed trees falling on people in their houses, evacuating Hoboken’s hospital, helping to support Jersey City’s EMS operations after a power loss, and helping to set up a mobile hospital in Brick, NJ, where Sandy first touched ground. His squad also set up a communication apparatus in case vital comms like 911 went down, among other things.

After spending so much time doing such intense work as a first responder after Sandy, we wanted to know more about his decision to be a long term Sandy volunteer here in NYC.

R&R: What was your reaction when you first returned to NYC?

RS: Once I got back to my apartment [in Manhattan] it was almost as if nothing had happened. Having had a front row seat to the devastation and hardship that people were facing I wanted to remain involved. I looked online and found Respond & Rebuild. They were one of the only groups mobilizing people immediately without previous orientations or training. Another volunteer group wanted me to take an orientation but the “classes” were booked for a solid 6 months.

R&R: When did you first come down to the Rockaways?

RS: I came to Rockaway the first time on November 10th. I kept coming down to the Rockaways because of my first day volunteering with Respond and Rebuild. That first day we worked from 9 to 5 with a crew of 10 people. We performed a muck out/clean out and demo of a basement and even after 8 hours we weren’t finished – there was so much more to do. Not to mention all of this family’s most treasured possessions were out on the street, destroyed. At the end of the day I looked up and down the street and realized this is what was needed for every house on the block and in a larger sense the whole area (Rockaways, NJ Coast, Staten Island, etc). It dawned on me that it was going to be a momentous task and a sustained effort of committed people was needed. Luckily there were others who shared my sentiments. That was good to know.

6 months after Sandy, Ravin helps gut a home.

6 months after Sandy, Ravin helps gut a home.

R&R: How would you describe the current state of the recovery process?

RS: Things are getting better day by day, and slowly working themselves out, albeit too slowly. Most (if not all) people have heat and power in their homes. People have started moving back into their homes, although the true numbers are hard to come by. But, as mentioned before, moving home doesn’t mean all is well.

On a macro scale, systems for aid and recovery work are largely in place in the form of organizations like Respond and Rebuild. But, with the solution of one problem, other problems are coming to the forefront. In the early days donations and volunteers were abundant, but now that things have largely “gone back to normal” donations of supplies and the flow of volunteers has plateaued. As a result, sustained funding seems to be the issue on every aid organization’s mind. So the process has already begun for requesting funding from government and non-governmental groups.

R&R: What keeps you coming down today?

RS: I don’t know that there is a simple answer to that question. First, the overriding reason I keep coming down is that there is still a lot of work to be done. I’m sure many people have not even cleaned out their home, let alone gutted it. What compounds this is that many people outside the affected area think the recovery process has been completed. When I tell people I still volunteer, their response is often, ‘Oh wow! That’s still going on? That’s still a problem?’ And of course the idea is to be helping people who cannot possibly afford to demo, remediate the mold, or rebuild with their savings or insurance/FEMA payouts. But as these things always go, the reality is much more complicated than that.

Second is that the people in the local community itself are so genuine and grateful for any help that we are able to provide. They understand the conditions surrounding their situation and are so happy that people care and can help give them a confidence booster and get them on the road to recovery.

Lastly, I keep coming back because the people that I volunteer with are some of the best people I have ever had the honor of knowing. These are people with jobs, families and so many other things going on that are giving up their preciously short weekends to help others. I can’t think of any other group that would have volunteers like that.

Team Leaders

Six months in: R&R in the news and an Internship Opportunity!

The last six months have flown by in a flurry of work that simultaneously hasn’t seemed like work but somehow still leads to weeks upon weeks of some seriously long days. As the half year anniversary nears, we want to update you on some important goings on in the R&R world.

First of all, some troubling news, for those of you who haven’t heard it yet. In the early morning of April 2, a driver lost control of his Land Rover SUV while traveling down Beach channel Drive, and collided with the wall of Arverne by the Bay Community Center, otherwise known as our Headquarters. Here was the view from the scene shortly after we got there:


The crash and the consequent costly rebuilding that will ensue will be a setback, but of course we’ll stay true to our name and rebuild. We had made quite a bit of progress rebuilding the Pilgrim Church of Arverne and Arverne by the Bay Community Center and now there’s a great deal we’ll have to start over. If you know anyone who may be interested in helping rebuild, get in touch! In case you missed the news coverage of the incident, you can see one of the breaking news reports from Eyewitness News here.

In better news, recently featured Terri and Shanna on their blog and we’re pretty happy with the results! Always happy to get a little good press. Check it out here.

Internship Opportunity
As the good weather picks up and R&R moves full speed ahead into the summer, we’re expecting a great volunteer turnout and lots of work to do to help the Rockaways rebuild after Sandy. We’re looking for people who want to make a commitment to being part of the field team as awesome team leaders. If you or someone you know is interested in joining us for all or part of the summer, check out this link and get in touch!

Intern with Respond & Rebuild

Creating Art for the Cause

On March 21st, the R&R crew took a little field trip off the Rockaway peninsula and into the downtown art scene. There were no Tyvek suits and no respirators to be seen. What was the occasion you ask? Well, to celebrate their new collaboration, Daryl K and Steven Alan hosted a pre-launch party at Steven Alan’s Chelsea Annex, complete with Carlos “Mare139” Rodriguez and Jimmy Raskin hand-painting 2 pairs of vintage Daryl K jeans. The jeans are being auctioned off on Ebay RIGHT NOW and there are only 2 days left to make them yours. Oh, and 100% of the proceeds will help support our work in Rockaway. Did we mention that?


So, we think these look pretty great, and we also think you should let all your friends know. People who are into Street Art, Fashion, Sandy Relief, collecting one of a kind artworks that you can WEAR if you want to… Plus, these guys do some really interesting work, and Mare139 has been around for a long time, starting with painting subway cars in the 70s and 80s, to becoming the official US Graffiti Ambassador! (We have to admit, we had no idea there was such thing as a Graffiti Ambassador, but we’re glad we know now.) Anyway, it was pretty great to watch him work with Jimmy Raskin at his side, who does some pretty great stuff in his own right.


So here’s a peek at the finished product! And also, here’s the link to our Ebay page.


And in case you needed proof to believe the part about no Tyvek suits OR respirators for this occasion, here’s a a little of that, too.


Thanks to Mother New York for making the intros, and to Max Lakner for the photos.

Meet the People who Make the Magic Happen!

Sandy Streetcar on the Spore Offensive

Sandy Streetcar on the Spore Offensive

It might be hard to believe, but there are people out there who think we’re a little bit crazy to be as obsessed with mold as we are. I’ll admit it might be a little weird to nickname the different types of mold you come across in different homes, or that certain members of our team who shall go unnamed (Hint: Mustache) are able to identify the homes of people we work with by looking at photos of spores. But hey, it’s all in a day’s work.

What’s even crazier is all the amazing people we meet who slave away all week long and STILL want to spend their days off in Tyvek suits with ghostbuster mold vacs, busting their butts to help people affected by Sandy get back to a sense of normalcy, and able to rebuild safely.

We love all the R&R volunteers so much we thought you might want to meet them, too. So with no further ado, welcome to our brand new “Meet the Volunteers” series!

Meet Tanuja

In kicking off these virtual introductions it makes sense to start with Tanuja, who’s not only been coming around for weeks now, but also brings along a van full of friends equally committed to helping out in the recovery process. They’ve nicknamed their 13 weeks (so far!) of coming down as weekend warriors the “Sandy Streetcar” project.

Tanuja has been living in NYC for more than 12 years, and like a lot of New Yorkers, has come to feel like she’s in a special sort of relationship with the city. When we interviewed her, she called the City her best friend. And in her blog, she referred to NYC as her husband. The jury is out on whether this constitutes cheating… but either way, every weekend for the last 13 weeks Tanuja and her friends have commandeered a vehicle, loaded it up with friends, and headed to areas affected by Sandy to help out residents trying to get back on their feet and back into their homes.

We asked Tanuja what inspired her to start the project and she said that when she volunteered at a church in Brooklyn the first weekend, “There was this long line of willing and able volunteers, but they lacked transport to get to the areas hardest hit. Some people were afraid to hitch rides out to these spots because there was no guarantee they’d get rides back! And I understood. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 12 years and never owned a car. When we knew that mobility was a key issue to tackle, we organized and raised funds to help us rent transport. Now that we get a van every weekend, people don’t have to worry about transportation logistics or where to keep our things during the day. And that’s how we’ve been able to do 13 trips and counting!”

Respond & Rebuild encourages all volunteers to come down and join us in doing what we do, but we also have a special place in our hearts for “repeat customers.” Mold remediation requires a very specific method, and quality control is crucial. When people like Tanuja and her friends come down week after week, not only do we spend less time training and more time working, but volunteers start training each other, playing a huge part in our promise to residents: that they are receiving an effective, professional service.

Since the Sandy Streetcar folks have been coming down for so long, they’ve worked in a lot of roles: distribution, mucking and gutting, remediation, and even rebuilding. We know why people keep coming back. It’s important work. And it feels great to know you’re helping prevent the displacement communities often see after disasters, when resources are scarce and rebuilding seems overwhelming. But we also wanted to know why Sandy Streetcar keeps coming back as a cohesive group rather than individually. Tanuja says, “Coming together and working as a group makes all the difference in a disaster recovery effort like this. We need to talk about what we see after spending a day of helping someone pick up the pieces of their home. And frankly, we can achieve so much more as a group than if we just came individually. Because of the camaraderie we build, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Treating floor joists for mold

Treating floor joists for mold

Having spent so much time reflecting on the work we do and the communities we work with ourselves, we understand how space for collective reflection makes for a more holistic response to disaster, and is crucial for moving beyond simply helping, to truly being in solidarity with the community.

To find out more about what it’s like to come out and work with us, and to see Sandy Streetcar’s take on the many issues faced by New York’s hardest hit communities, check out Tanuja’s blog here.

(Special thanks to Sandy Streetcar’s Gianluca and Cherished Team Leader Kevin LaVerdière for photos.)

Official First Day of Spring Progress Report!

So, we’re not sure about you, but we’re pretty excited to say goodbye to the winter that almost wasn’t and hello to warmer days and fewer layers under the Tyvek suits. (Did we mention it’s REALLY hot in there, even when it’s really cold?)

Out here in the Rockaways, we’ve been able to tell that Spring is coming for a while now, because we’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of students who decided to focus on recovering from Sandy during Springbreak.

So far we’ve had students from the Stonybrook Sea Wolves, Fordham, James Madison University, North Dakota, Iowa, NYU, New School, Boston College, Harvard and Princeton. Not a bad line up.

We’ve also had a couple of awesome crews from Center for Employment Opportunities fighting mold steadily for weeks. We love people who keep on coming back, because it means less time training and more time slaying mold, as we like to put it.

With the help of all these guys, March has been a pretty impressive month so far in the Rockaway relief world.

Our last monthly progress report attests to this!

From 2/13 – 3/12:
22 work days
531 total workers (does not account for repeat workers — just a sum of total number of workers in field per day)
24.14 average volunteers/workers per day (including CEO teams)
3065 total hours
$61,300 worth of labor (@$20/hr)
22 unique homes worked in
7 gutting jobs finished
13 mold jobs finished
1 rebuilding job finished
21 total finished jobs (there is some overlap between the three job categories)
145.95 average labor hours per finished job

And we’re still going strong. Check in soon to see our next Spring Break report card, enter our t-shirt design contest, and meet some R&R volunteers.

And keep your eyes out for more signs of Spring in Rockaway. We hear our friend Denise may have some crocuses popping up, and we might have to go see for ourselves….

Announcing Our T-Shirt Design Competition! Think You Can?

PDF Announcement

Can you hone your graphic design skills on a logo that makes mold removal as hip and cool as the Respond & Rebuild staff makes mold removal?

Can you design a rockin “Mold-Slayer” T-shirt?
Can you make “Spore-Busting” the next big thing?

Can you create a design that is as awesome as the feeling you get when you help clean an NYC family’s home of mold?

Think You Can?

Email us your design (find t-shirt templates here), and make sure you have “liked” our facebook page.

Keep checking back and we will put your design on our Facebook page in our
“T-Shirt Design Contest” album, then tell your friends to “like” us too so they can vote!

The three designs with the most votes from our Facebook friends will be voted on by the Respond & Rebuild Team and the winning design will become our first t-shirt!

(1) Submissions will only be accepted from March 14, 2013 12:00 PM (EST) to April 1st, 2013 11:59 PM (EST).
(2) Email submissions to
(3) All entry emails should have the subject line “T-shirt Design Contest Submission – First Name, Last Name.” (4) Submit one design per person. If you submit more than one, only your first submission in order of date and time will be considered.
(5) You must be at least 16 years of age to win.
(6) The Design must include “Respond & Rebuild” in the logo somewhere in the design.
(7) Submit only original designs. These designs must not contain copyrighted material and they cannot
have previously won any awards.
(8) Submit front t-shirt designs only. There should be no text or visuals on the back of the shirt.
(9) Attach entries as medium resolution JPEG or pdf files.
(10) Please be prepared to submit the original Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop file
in the case your artwork is chosen.
(11)Any artwork and writing submitted will not be returned, and becomes property of Respond & Rebuild.