When you searched “New Bern, North Carolina” years ago, you’d turn up fun historical facts or photos of the quaint town of 30,000 people.
Now, the results aren’t so rosy.
Peppered among visitor’s information are images of Hurricane Florence’s devastation, stories of stranded people and data on the millions of dollars the city incurred as a result of flooding and high winds.
Florence hit land months ago in mid-September, but its effects are still being felt throughout the historic city, founded in 1710. New Bern officials estimate that Florence caused more than $100 million in damage to homes and businesses as a result of flood waters that lingered for days.
And though national attention has shifted and federal recovery groups have moved on, the town still is rebuilding. But thanks to the efforts of some, the city isn’t going at it alone.
A friendship deepened through disaster
Shortly after the flood waters receded, Jay Gaskins joined the throngs of New Bern residents trying to rebuild their homes with local contractors. But with only four main options in town, all local contractors were maxed out, helping as best they could.
Seeking an alternative, Gaskins picked up the phone to call his contractor friend, Darin Brockelbank, in Charlotte. Brockelbank made the four-hour trek to New Bern and, upon seeing the devastation, felt called to help the community rebuild.
“The reality is that there is still a lot of devastation going on in the city of New Bern and the surrounding areas,” Brockelbank reflected. “Some of it can be seen as you drive through the streets of communities like Fairfield Harbour and Riverbend, as you try to navigate your car through the debris in the yards and on the street. Along the way, you will see hundreds of people living in RVs or trailers outside their home with the last bit of belongings stored in a POD on their property.”
So, Brockelbank ramped down business in Charlotte and assembled a team. With the goal to help New Bern rebuild and grow even stronger, Brockelbank focused his team’s efforts through a new organization: MetroRealEstate.
With the capacity to nearly double local contractors’ impact, Brockelbank’s organization aims to go beyond repairs of simply what people can see.
“For the communities that have been cleaned up on the outside, the aftermath can’t totally be seen until you go inside the homes,” Brockelbank said. “They have been gutted, mucked out and drywall cut up 4 to 8-feet high. Some have been remedied for mold, and others haven’t.
Some will struggle for months or years to get a contractor, others aren’t sure where to turn or what to do next.”
Maximizing community impact
To deepen their impact, MetroRealEstate is planning to donate 100,000 hours of community service to the city of New Bern over the next two years. It’s also helping to rally volunteers in and around North Carolina to maximize their collective impact.
As contractors rebuild, Gaskins and Brockelbank are assisting residents with recovery processes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration.
While resources and expertise is vital, so too is emotional support, Brockelbank said.
“Some of the struggle is mental, going through the loss of a home, personal belongings, and heirlooms, devastation to their life and lifestyle, denial, anger, depression, et cetra,” Brockelbank said. “FEMA has pretty much come and gone, as well as government assistance. Many still don’t know their options. Many of the affected were elderly, some widowed, and are either having to enlist other family and friends to help with decisions, or make them on their own.”
In about six weeks, MetroRealEstate has cleared several tons of debris on the Fairfield Harbour Golf Course, 119 lots and more than 60 homes in the area.
In addition to committing 100,000 hours of community service, the organization plans to do more. For every 10 homes that MetroRealEstate rehabs, MetroRealEstate will rehab one home pro-bono for a widower in New Bern – provided they have enough materials and volunteers willing to help them rehab the homes.
MetroRealEstate is actively looking for resources in materials and tools for interior and exterior home rehabilitation, skilled labor for hire, and skilled labor for volunteering.
For more information on volunteering, check out MetroRealEstate at metrorealestatepros.com.