Jeff Piechnik held a small nail against a freshly painted wall as his wife, Carol, gently tapped it in.
The nail now holds a special wreath commemorating the Piechnik family’s return to the Route 30A home they’d cherished for 22 years before it was inundated by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
About 40 people, including volunteers from as far away as California and Canada, gathered at the Central Bridge house to celebrate what dozens of volunteers and donors can accomplish when their neighbors are in need.
The Piechniks’ now-restored home represents the first successful project coordinated by Schoharie Area Long Term.
The project was made possible with donated materials like laminate flooring and ceramic tiles, insulation, fixtures and drywall.
And it happened with the help of the Green Shirt construction teams from Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Disaster Response Services and young AmeriCorps volunteers from all over the U.S.
There are a few hookups left to complete, Carol Piechnik said, so she and her husband are staying in the temporary housing unit provided by FEMA for a few more days.
She paused every so often during Thursday’s celebration to hug Green Shirt volunteers she knew, all by first name.
Piechnik carried a couple of photographs showing the home in the aftermath of last year’s flooding. Beams in some spots were all that remained from the structure of the home that sat quite a distance from the Schoharie Creek for 160 years.
Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene was so massive it caused the creek — at least a hundred yards away — to scale an embankment before filling the home 4 feet deep with water.
Dozens gathered in the family’s new living room for a blessing ceremony, and the pair hanged the Last Nail Wreath on the wall.
“What do you say? ‘Thank you’ is not nearly enough,” Jeff Piechnik said.
He said he can’t call the flooding a blessing because he has friends that were ousted by the flood and they won’t be back.
After meeting so many new friends through the flood-recovery effort, Piechnik said he plans to pay it back and continue to work with other flood victims to help them get back into their own homes.
“It certainly put a lot of things into perspective,” Jeff Piechnik said to the group.
“Thank you for restoring our faith in humanity and God. These things waver.”
Carol Piechnik thanked all the Green Shirt volunteers who helped not only stabilize the house, but her emotions as well.
She said she wasn’t sure how things would work out, but the volunteers all came without expectations and quelled her anxiety.
“There’s just an incredible love that comes out of it,” she said.
It’s not unusual to see so many hugs nor for victims to know volunteers by name, said Green Shirt volunteer Polly Stanley.
“That’s the kind of fellowship we have. We’re helping to rebuild their lives,” she said.
The flood stalled Abi Piechnik’s arrival at college last fall. She recalled being evacuated, heading to Albany and eventually returning to see what was left of the home she’d grown up in.
For Abi, 21, it wasn’t the new floors or walls that made Thursday’s event special. It was the fact that the home once again welcomed guests.
“It’s so nice to see people in it again and for it to come alive. I really do feel like this is the home I grew up in,” said the older of the couple’s two daughters.
There are teams of volunteers working on different aspects of five different houses each day, Schoharie Recovery Director Josh DeBartolo said.
It’s work that’s made possible not only by volunteers, but by those willing to donate money or materials to put the Schoharie Valley back together again.
Some jobs on the calendar are near-rebuilds like the Piechniks’ home, others are what’s left to be done after families exhausted their insurance or FEMA funding, he said.
Donations to the recovery effort are being matched up to $250,000 by Cobleskill-based Fenimore Asset Management, so DeBartolo said until that threshold is met, people can expect their donations to be doubled.
People interested in helping can call SALT at 518-702-5017 or visit the group’s website at www.saltrecovery.org.