Schoharie County: In many ways, work of fundraisers just beginning
SCHOHARIE COUNTY The village of Schoharie has come a long way since last fall, when piles of debris lined the sidewalks and only a handful of stores were open.
The houses are tidier, and many of the shops and restaurants do a steady business: A rebuilt Stewart’s convenience store bustles with activity, while a pizza shop and pub help keep people fed.
But beneath this facade, the village of Schoharie remains a shadow of itself.
Many of the homes look neat, but are unoccupied, their interiors mostly empty of furniture and decorations. For sale signs are a common sight, as homeowners seek to unload property damage by floodwaters last August, and a number of businesses remain closed indefinitely. A year after the flood, one of the busiest places in town is the Loaves and Fishes cafe — the volunteer-run lunchspot that serves free meals to anybody who needs one.
“It’s like a movie set,” said Sarah Goodrich, executive director of Schoharie Area Long Term, or SALT. “When you look in the houses, there’s nothing there.”
Formed in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, SALT is a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to the various flood recovery groups, civic organizations and agencies in Schoharie County and the Greene County town of Prattsville, with the goal of making the rebuilding process more efficient and coordinated.
In many ways, the work of SALT is just beginning.
The organization’s goal is to see the county’s towns and businesses fully repopulated, a process that is expected to take between three and five years, and will require nearly $80 million.
As a result, SALT has been aggressive at reaching out to donors, and their fundraising goal is ambitious: $3 million, of which they’d raised about $200,000 from individuals, private foundations and businesses by early August. Right now, donations are being matched by an anonymous donor, whose identity will be revealed at an Aug. 26 event celebrating the resilience of Schoharie Valley communities, titled “Schoharie County One-Year Later: Country Strong.” A new theme, “Way To Go,” will be unveiled at the event.
“We want to say ‘way to go’ to all of the stalwart people,” Goodrich said. “And also that we have a way to go.”
In the past year, SALT has acquired an office, on the second floor of Schoharie Reformed Church’s Heritage House, and four employees: an executive, an office manager, a volunteer director and a resource/construction manager. Goodrich said that rebuilding Schoharie County is a big job, and that donors want to give money to stable organizations, which is why SALT decided to hire a small staff.
“We’re making progress,” Goodrich said. “Sometimes it’s not as fast as we’d like. ... Everybody has the same goal — to get people back into their homes. Our goal is for those homes to be safe, sanitary and secure. We are not trying to get everybody finished to the last degree.”
Despite the multi-year commitment, SALT expects its work to come to an end.
“SALT is viewed as a relatively short-term organization because our goal is recovery,” Goodrich said. “Our vision is to achieve our goals, and then move on.” This doesn’t mean SALT will completely disappear. One possibility, which might be explored in the future, is becoming a member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a coalition of all-volunteer disaster relief organizations.
Partners in recovery
SALT’s partners include SUNY Cobleskill, Rebuild Prattsville, Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, Schoharie County Child Development Council, the Office of the Agency, United Way, Schoharie Valley Farms and Schoharie Recovery, a flood recovery group with a focus on communities in the Schoharie Central School District.
Schoharie Recovery’s headquarters are in a trailer in the parking lot at Schoharie Reformed Church. A map of the village of Schoharie hangs on the wall, and colored tacks indicate how much work has been done in a particular home. Yellow means that between 51 percent and 99 percent of the work has been done, orange means that between 0 percent and 50 percent of the work has been done and pink means that the house has been destroyed. About 25 percent of the homes are completely finished, while the rest have either been destroyed or still need work. The group is also willing to provide some assistance to people looking to move to the area. “In the village, you can see a lot of yellow and a fair amount of green,” said Josh DeBartolo, a Middleburgh resident who coordinates Schoharie Recovery. “A lot of the people in yellow houses have hit a wall, and they’re completely out of money.”
Earlier this year, Schoharie Recovery received a $500,000 gift. The group has also raised about $500,000,
In Schenectady County, the Flood Recovery Coalition has spent much of the past year coordinating volunteers, raising money and rebuilding flood-damaged homes. Most of these homes are located in Rotterdam Junction, the Stockade neighborhood and Scotia, although the group has also worked on homes in Glenville, Pattersonville and Duanesburg.
Unlike SALT, the Flood Recovery Coalition expects its work to wrap up in the near future. The group has an informal, hierarchical structure, and no plans to become a nonprofit organization.
So far, the organization has raised over $244,000 for its Rebuilding Families Fund, $175,000 of which has come from the Schenectady Foundation, and $46,000 of which has come from donations, many of which received a one-to-one match. So far, the organization has distributed about $190,000 to volunteers and organizations, according to Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, a philanthropic trust that provides grants to community-based organizations. The group estimates that another $50,000 is needed to complete its work.
The Flood Recovery Coalition has established a command center in the rectory of St. Margaret of Cortona in Rotterdam Junction, and has hired a coordinator, Nathan Mandsager. So far, the coalition has helped rebuild over 120 homes, and estimates that about 21 are undergoing rehabilitation.
“Some got a late start because of finances,” Carreau said. “Some couldn’t get their insurance settled and dealt with, and were wondering whether they would be able to rebuild at all. Our mission is to help them get to the finish line, or as close to it as we can. A lot has been cleaned up, but a year later it’s evident that there’s still a process going on.”
Many flood victims ran into problems that they were unable to deal with on their own, he said. “Only a couple months ago we had people walking through the door that we had never heard from before,” he said. Some homes have not been dealt with at all. Mandsager said that between 20 to 30 houses, most of which are located in Rotterdam Junction, Pattersonville and the Stockade, still need to be mucked out.
“We’re only able to go into homes where we’re in contact with the owners,” Mandsager said. “Our goal is to address abandoned houses.”
Right now, the Flood Recovery Coalition’s plan is to keep the small office at St. Margaret of Cortona through October.
“We’re looking at this month by month,” Carreau said, noting that the coalition is still seeking volunteers to help with the final phase of rebuilding. “We’ve got four or five crews plugging away on a regular basis,” he said.
Like SALT, the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County is already thinking about the future. Members would like to continue to work together on community projects, now that a network has been established, Carreau said.
“It’s still pretty conceptual,” Carreau said. “We’ve had a number of discussions about how to take this model and employ it in the community in a non-disaster related way. Is there a way we can pool our resources and bring about positive change in our neighborhoods? We just spent a year learning how to work together and we’ve accomplished a lot. Let’s continue that momentum and take it somewhere else.”
The non-profit organization Storm Aid was created in the aftermath of the flooding, with the goal of assisting flood victims in Schoharie, Schenectady, Montgomery and Greene counties. Janice Thompson, the Schenectady resident who founded Storm Aid, said the group has raised $35,000 so far, and hopes to raise $100,000. This money will be given to individuals in the form of checks or gift certificates made out to specific vendors.
“The need is still there, and we’ll be there until the need is met,” Thompson said.
For all of the flood recovery groups, the past year has been a learning experience.
“We were thinking [recovery] would take six months or nine months or maybe a year, but a year seemed like a long time,” Carreau said. “As we got deeper into it, we recognized the complexity of each household, and that it wasn’t always going to be simple.”