The Fuller Center expects its homeowner partners to be full partners in the building process — or repair process as has been the case during this week’s Superstorm Sandy recovery project. That’s one reason it’s called Partnership Housing. It’s a hand up, not a handout, that represents empowerment instead of charity.
Perhaps no homeowner this week in Atlantic City exemplified that partnership more than did Camilo Leal.
For six months, Camilo, wife Maynee and children ages 5 and 3 have lived in a small house off the island after their Drexel Avenue home was devastated by flooding from Sandy. While people with good insurance or more means were able to move back into their homes, the Leal family kept up a difficult commute. They longed for the home just five blocks away from school, five blocks from Maynee’s work and 15 blocks from Camilo’s work at the luxurious Revel on the famous Boardwalk.
This week, Camilo was not about to let the opportunity to get his family back in their home slip away. He was up at 7 a.m. to work with volunteers until 4 p.m., when he left for his job as a chef at the Revel. There, he would work until 1 or 2 a.m. and be back at it the next day.
“They kept asking me, ‘Are you tired?’” he said of the volunteers working on his home this week. “But I think it’s so exciting to see the house coming back that probably my adrenaline is high for a week, and I don’t feel tired. I’m exhausted. My body is kind of achy and my legs hurt, but I don’t want to stop.
“It’s our meaning in life right now to get this house back to where it was, to be able to come back and sleep here and have the kids in their home,” he continued “We work in the city, our kids go to school in the city and we are homeowners in the city, so that’s why it’s important to be back in town so that we can have a regular life.”
Wife Maynee has been working alongside him through it all and is thrilled with the progress this week.
“A week ago, we didn’t have walls, we didn’t have floors, we didn’t have anything. And, now, it’s only been five days and we have color on the walls and floors down already, so it’s pretty exciting.”
It also is exciting for their children who do not fully understand why it has taken so long to go home.
“My little boy keeps saying, ‘Mama, I want to go back home,’” Maynee said. “He wants to play with his trains. And, of course, he doesn’t know there’s no more trains anymore.”
Camilo found a unique way to give back with the help of his other family at the Revel, where volunteers working on his home were treated to top-of-the-line dinner on Wednesday night.
“That’s my other family, the people who I work with,” he said. “They’ve been supportive along the way. When they found out how wonderful these people were who were helping me, right away they told me to bring them to the restaurant, we want to treat these people who are being so nice to you. We want to make them feel welcome because they’re helping you, and if they’re helping you, they’re helping us because we’re a family.
“They prepared a wonderful dinner, and everybody was so excited, including the chef, my general manager and they connected with these people. They connected with this group. A couple of guys came to me and actually said they wanted to cry after hearing the tale. It’s the other side of the coin that we never see — that there are people out there who really want to help and try to make a difference.”