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Social Security snaps back

Students from PS 137 sing about Hurricane Sandy recovery at the reopening of the Social Security office in the Rockaways Photo by Steve Mosco
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Not only did Hurricane Sandy wipe out some homes in the Rockaways, it also compromised many of the resources residents need to help with the recovery process.

One of those resources returned to the neighborhood last week, as the Rockaway Social Security office opened the doors to its revamped and rehabilitated facility, at 113-06 Rockaway Beach Blvd.

“The reopening of the Rockaway Social Security field office will restore our service to residents of the Rockaway Peninsula, many of whom were severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy,” Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin said. “The return of the Social Security office to the Rockaways represents the federal government’s ongoing commitment to our communities.”

Serving the communities of Arverne, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Edgemere, Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park, the Social Security office was on the front lines facing Sandy’s wrath in October.

Since the storm, residents looking to apply for social security aid, supplemental security income and the Medicare Prescription Drug Program had to make the trip to the nearest location in Jamaica or to the office of City Councilwoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway), who allowed the administration to use her office as a temporary regional headquarters.

It sustained millions of dollars in damage to the floor, walls and everything in-between. John Shallman, regional communications director of the U.S. Social Security Administration, said the building’s frame was basically the only thing that could be salvaged.

“Everything you see here right now is new,” said Shallman. “After seven months of cleaning, sweeping and gutting, Social Security services have returned to the Rockaways.”

Helping to welcome residents back to the Rockaway office was a group of young musicians from PS 317, the Waterside Children’s Studio School, at 190 Beach 110th St. in Rockaway Park. Music teacher Gary Heimbauer led the youthful musicians in compositions written by the children in a song writing class.

One of those children, fourth-grader Olivia Remmert, sang an emotional song she wrote about the night Sandy roared into the city. Heimbauer said the children at Waterside used music as a healthy way to deal with the devastation.

“Music is such an amazing way to deal with emotions,” he said. “They took all of those feelings and put them to song.”

Beatrice Disman, Social Security’s regional commissioner, had a hard time dealing with her feelings the night Sandy struck. Disman was thousands of miles away in Munich, Germany, hearing piecemeal details about the storm through text messages.

“All I could think about was my Rockaway family and the neighborhood surrounding our office,” she said. “I heard about the fires in Rockaway and there I was out of the country, stranded, with nothing I could do.”

Disman said immediately upon returning home, she looked into ways to provide Social Security service to those in need. She was able to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up services at FEMA relief sites throughout the region.

“We knew people needed Social Security,” she said, adding that employees affected by the storm worked diligently to help, even though they faced their own post-Sandy crisis. “I never doubted that we would come back and rebuild this office.”

After months mired in the dark dankness, the now-bright and clean office returned to normal and welcomed residents just as it did before the storm hit. It was a sight Titus was thrilled to see.

“After all the devastation and the slow recovery, to see children singing in this building — it is hard to hold back the tears,” she said.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Posted 8:20 pm, May 16, 2013
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