Hofstra Pulse Magazine

Long Beach Resident Helps to Rebuild his Community After Hurricane Sandy

Local hero Douglas O’Grady spreads help and support across the island.

By lindsay koploWitz

Long beach house still being gutted months after Sandy. Photo Credit: Lindsay Koplowitz

Long beach house still being gutted months after Sandy.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Koplowitz

“I started something and with people jumping in to help out it went to the next level,” said Douglas O’Grady, 44, a Long Beach native. Months after Hurricane Sandy, O’Grady still has dozens of sticky notes on his desk. They provide the contact information of people he still intends to help. He is in high-demand and his schedule is unarguably packed. “I can never promise,” explained O’Grady. “But what I can say is that if I can get there to help, I will.”

Before the storm led him to this immense project, O’Grady worked for the NYC Carpenter’s Union. There, he worked on numerous big projects, including the Freedom Towers.

The night of the storm, O’Grady, his wife and two sons, ages four and six, stayed at their Long Beach house, deciding to ride it out. It wasn’t until late that night that O’Grady realized how severe the situation really was. He second guessed his choice not to evacuate and decided to leave the next day. The O’Gradys stayed at their neighbors’ family’s house in Shelter Island.

Days later, O’Grady returned to a damaged Long Beach. With all of the destruction, he didn’t know where to begin. His whole basement was destroyed and he was going to need a significant amount of help. When O’Grady went back to Shelter Island that night, his wife put up a page on Facebook asking if anyone could help them. That was what started it all.

The next few days were as successful as they could be, mainly because of the number of people who came to help clean out his basement. They were a huge help, according to O’Grady. Together they came up with a conveyor belt system to get their destroyed belongings out to the street. Local men from the NYC District Council Carpenter’s Union helped gut out the house. And once his basement was stripped, one carpenter told O’Grady to go help other carpenters.

That night in Shelter Island, O’Grady was putting his boys to bed. He thought about the day, about the comment, and was affected. He felt that if he was going to help anyone in the community, he was compelled to help everyone and anyone, not just people of his own trade. Then, he put up a Facebook message stating that if anyone needed help cleaning out their house, he would do it free of charge.

Douglas O’Grady and son. Photo Credit: Heather O’Grady

Douglas O’Grady and son.
Photo Credit: Heather O’Grady

As the days went by and more and more people reached out for help, O’Grady set up teams and crews to go around and gut out houses. He did this all while working on his own house as well. The help and support that he got from the community and friends from all over was overwhelming. His friend Lori, from Denver, came with an 18-wheeler, that he used to distribute supplies to the local church and other places in need.

But O’Grady did not stop there.

“We kept going. Thanksgiving, Christmas eve, we were still gutting houses,” O’Grady said. He estimates that between him and the other teams, they gutted over two-hundred homes.

O’Grady was then awarded the Hometown Hero Award at the N.Y. Islander’s hockey game. “To see the look on my boys’ faces and that I had helped so many people was such an amazing feeling,” he said.

His work is only continuing. Today, O’Grady works as a sales representative for Ocean Safe, a company that makes structural, insulated panels for homes that are fire-resistant, waterproof and can withstand 160 miles-per-hour winds. He plans to rebuild houses with this product in hopes that it will make a difference should another storm strike. O’Grady has also started the Mohawk Avenue St. Foundation, which supports the rebuilding of homes affected by Sandy.

“If I’m paying it forward I’m not just helping that person, I’m also helping myself,” O’Grady said. “It’s good karma for me. Do the next right thing and the next right thing will happen.”

Belongings at curbside destroyed by Sandy. Photo Credit: Lindsay Koplowitz

Belongings at curbside destroyed by Sandy.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Koplowitz

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