Sandy victims get long-awaited homecoming (NJ.com) | Lao Tribune

Sandy victims get long-awaited homecoming (NJ.com)


May 20, 2015



By MaryAnn Spoto  

Little Egg Harbor Mayor Arthur Midgley helps welcome Marita Axten back home. Axten and her family finally move back to their new Little Egg Harbor home after Hurricane Sandy. She credits the disaster response program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Trenton with helping to get her house rebuilt (MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

LITTLE EGG HARBOR —Marita Axten was up to her neck in paperwork trying to get her house rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy and was afraid she was sinking fast under the weight of the stress.

Her husband dead of cancer for less than a year when the storm ravaged their Little Egg Harbor home, Axten spent more than two years battling bureaucratic red tape while also trying to convalesce from health issues.

Her dogged determination buoyed by help from a little-known Catholic Charities program finally paid off when Axten and her children recently moved back home to start life anew.

“I cannot even begin to thank all those who helped to get us home enough,” Axten said Wednesday to a crowd on her front “lawn” of stones at a celebration of their homecoming. “I owe you all a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Thanks be to God for all of you and for finally being home.”

For Axten, 47, there were times she didn’t think she would make it through the nightmare process of getting her life back in order, let alone back to the lagoon-front home she and her four children shared since 1998.

She haggled endlessly with the insurance adjuster subcontracted by the National Flood Insurance Program, which insisted her house could be rebuilt. Yet two other engineers had certified that it had to be demolished, she said. She applied for all the programs she could to help her family get back on its feet.

And while bouncing from one temporary home to another, Axten waded through the morass of paperwork to get the money to build her new home.

“It was very frustrating and overwhelming,” Axten said of the storm recovery process. “You had to be very adamant about things. You had to go out there no matter how you felt.”

Her son, Jason Kane of Tuckerton, said his mother at one point told him she didn’t think she had it in her to do what was necessary to get them home.

He knew better. He told her she could.

“You name the agency that was out there and my mom was on the phone with them,” Kane said.

And almost as if on cue, in 2013 she was assigned to Catholic Charities’ disaster response program, which is tasked with helping Sandy victims navigate the maze of recovery assistance programs.

They put her in touch with agencies that helped her get rental assistance, help with her mortgage, furnishings and so many other things that families like Axten’s need when they lose everything and have to start over.

And they helped her negotiate a contract that actually gave her a slightly larger ranch house despite one of the builders proposing to reduce her original three-bedroom house to two bedrooms, she said.

As of February, the disaster response program helped more than 12,000 Sandy victims, said Maria Nikolatos, director of the disaster response program.

They actually hoped Axten would have moved back home a year ago, but progress stalled when the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program changed contractors in mid-stream, Nikolatos said.

Marlene Lao-Collins, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Trenton, said Axten was on a journey she hadn’t expected.

“We carry in our hearts you and so many of the other families that we work with to try and get home,” she said before presenting Axten with a rosemary plant, signifying the healing process. “That healing is not yet complete. But it’s coming.”

MaryAnn Spoto may be reached at mspoto@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find NJ.com on Facebook.