Joyce Murray swept a brush down the rectory wall, crouching to reach the bottom half of a corner. The eggshell hue grew bolder with each flick of her wrist.
Instinctively, she rested a paint-speckled hand on her thigh.
“It’s quite a canvas, isn’t it?” she said, looking down at her blue jeans. They were covered in splotches of white, tan and orange paint, a few drops of pink and green.
They’re just one pair of pants out of four that Murray wears when helping with flood recovery in Rotterdam Junction. They’ve served her well the last 16 months, as she painted new ceilings, walls and window trim at freshly rebuilt homes.
On Saturday, she put them to use for a different kind of spruce job — this time at the St. Margaret of Cortona Church rectory on Main Street, effectively the command center for all recovery efforts in the Junction since massive flooding upended lives here in August 2011.
The little rectory behind the church played a crucial role in this hamlet’s rebuilding. The Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County moved in, taking over the church’s administrative space at a time when the community needed a single base of operations for volunteers to meet and mobilize, contractors to check in and figure out what jobs to go to, residents to stream in and out with questions, uncertainties and fears.
“I would come out here sometimes four days a week, sometimes none,” said Murray, of Ballston Lake. “I would just show up to volunteer, and whatever needs to be done I’d do. It was really imperative that we had this space, because a lot of people would just come out and much of the time, Monday through Saturday, somebody was here to help.”
The move to the rectory happened around mid-October 2011, when the Junction and other parts of Schenectady County realized they needed somewhere other than the volunteer fire department to house a long-term recovery base.
At the height of recovery efforts, Nathan Mandsager was spending 12 hours a day at the rectory.
“I’d get here early morning and there would be a dozen contractors coming through either to mobilize or to grab lunch,” said the Flood Recovery Coalition coordinator. “When people needed materials or needed to know where to go, they came here. We had crisis counselors use this space for counseling, meeting with residents to go through their finances, figure out their plan for rebuilding. And then we had volunteers and volunteers and then more volunteers.”
But over the last six months, as more flood-affected homes have been completely rebuilt, Mandsager and his staff began to wonder how they could repay the church for letting them use the rectory all this time.
“We really took over this whole house,” he said. “They opened this up to us, and it’s been a while since this building has had a spruce-up. So we figured, you know, while we’re finishing up our work with residents and finalizing things, let’s do a final paint job here.”
The coalition also raised donations to buy new doors for the church garage, which was transformed into a warehouse for lumber, tools and other supplies.
From a stepladder, Carol Fallon extended an arm to reach the top of an office wall with her paint roller. Beneath her the floor is covered in newspaper and behind her two desks are covered in plastic. About 15 other volunteers mingle throughout the rectory, filling holes and coating walls in fresh paint.
She’ll be here until at least August, when phase two of the state’s disaster case management program wraps up. As a disaster case manager with Catholic Charities of the Albany Diocese, it’s Fallon’s job to answer questions, address any unmet needs and help residents find the social services they might still need more than a year after the floods.
Frankly, she said, it was a bit of a relief for her to have the rectory as the community’s command center. The Rev. Michael Hogan and church secretary Amy Smart were often helpful in her getting to know the residents.
“If somebody came in for help, the church would call me and make sure I had space to meet with the residents,” said Fallon. “I can’t imagine being able to do that kind of intensive case management without this space or these people, because they had developed trust with all of the residents that made it easier for me to come in and build relationships.”
Many of the Junction’s volunteers were eager Saturday to give back to the church. A paint job seemed like the least they could do, said Fallon.
“I was just honored to be able to do this, to in some way, you know, pay back a little bit of all the hospitality and good will they extended,” she said.