The Epstein family moved to Leonardo, NJ over 20 years ago and couldn't believe how lucky they were to wake up every day to a view of the Sandy Hook Bay and the #NewYork skyline. Their front yard was direct access to the neighborhood beach about 50 feet away. Many times this close-knit neighborhood gathered together on the beach for refreshments and conversation. Compiled of an eclectic group of homes, this bay-side community is a hidden gem along the Bayshore. That was severely altered when Hurricane Sandy stormed in and caused major damage to the homes and devastated their beachfront.
For weeks, Shari and Marc Epstein worked to put their home back together so they could move back in. The elevation of the house was what saved them from total loss of the structure. Many of their neighbors' houses were not as lucky. Shari Epstein was devastated see her neighbors and friends displaced and deeply saddened when the beach was compromised. The berm that separated the beach from the street had totally dissipated, leaving only sand and debris throughout the neighborhood. It would be months before help arrived (if any) to reconstruct the beachfront. That's when Mrs. Epstein took control. The first step was to rebuild the berm.
She contacted local Christmas tree farms that donated hundreds of cut evergreen trees to build the initial berm foundation. A team of volunteers from the neighborhood worked tirelessly to stack and position them to create the most natural barrier possible. Next a few neighbors donated money and ordered over 4000 sea grass plants. Not only would the plants help with the barrier but they would grow to replace all the natural vegetation that had been demolished. Groups of volunteers from Gateway Church of Christ, TCNJ students, volunteer group from Morristown and #Rebel Rescue helped with the planting marathon that was organized by the Epstein family. The start of regaining the neighborhood beach had begun. The purchase of fencing was also bought and is still being put up. This group is serious about trying to maintain the natural landscape that was ravaged by Sandy.
Unfortunately, added to the trauma of this quiet little community was the death of a friend. A memorial plague was added to the beach in honor of Holly Bianchi and a garden was planted around it. Shari Epstein heard about the work that Room In Our Hearts did and humbly approached Executive Director, Katharine Koehler, in hopes of obtaining an outside bench where friends could sit and reunite again. That was all RIOH had to hear.
The idea of designing an outside space was so exciting. Even though it had to be small and simple (items couldn't be permanently left out in the elements) the team from Room In Our Hearts was eager to go. Katharine Koehler, along with Jeanette Molando, Linda Berry and Renee Buchbinder created a little outside area where the Leonardo residents could heal and enjoy each other again. Along with the items used to decorate, they gathered shells, driftwood and even a barnacled horseshoe crab to incorporate into the natural setting. It was to be the center of a meeting place where old and new friends could bring their chairs and towels to enjoy the most spectacular view on the Bayshore. Even
Sandy couldn't take that away!