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LINCROFT, NJ - Brookdale Community College students and the Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA) capped months of effort June 4 by unveiling three newly redesigned homes for displaced superstorm Sandy victims living in temporary housing. 

Under a joint program called House2Home, 12 interior design students at Brookdale worked collaboratively with three displaced families living in factory-manufactured homes in the Pine Tree community off Route 35 in Eatontown. 


Working in teams of four, the students redesigned, repainted and refurnished the interiors of the homes on budgets ranging from $2,500 to $3,500. The funds were made available to the displaced residents through a state recovery program being administered by the AHA.

The project, which was also a design competition among the student teams, culminated with a “Grand Reveal” event at Pine Tree on June 4.

“We feel heartfelt empathy for the trials and tribulations you have had to experience due to Hurricane Sandy,” said Jeannine Urban, House2Home project manager and a recent Brookdale graduate, addressing the residents.

“We only hope that you now have comforting and beautiful spaces that reflect our sincere desire to bring you normalcy, peace and happiness.”

One of the participating residents was Olivia DeCellio, whose Highlands home was destroyed by Sandy. Displaced for nearly 18 months, she has lived with family and in temporary housing, making do with relatively few home furnishings.

She moved into one of the AHA’s 25 factory-built homes for Sandy victims in Pine Tree in February, preparing to wait up to a year for her new permanent home to be built. Upon seeing her redesigned temporary home for the first time, however, she joked that she is no longer in a rush to get back.

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PHOTO: Resident Olivia DeCellio looks at her pastel colored bed, shortly after the home was revealed to her by the students.

“I was hoping to get back there, but I don’t know. I like it here now,” she said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Beginning earlier this year, the Brookdale students coordinated directly with the families and with AHA, which manages a wide range of housing programs for Sandy impacted residents. 

Mirroring the work they one day hope to perform as professional designers, the students conducted client surveys and comprehensive interviews to gauge the needs and interests of the families.

For a home with two young boys, one student team designed and installed a chalkboard wall, basketball-themed artwork, T-shaped bunk beds and a separate sofa bed in the living room.

For two displaced men who have become roommates since Sandy, another team chose dual recliners and a matching, two-tone paint pattern throughout the house. One of the men had lost a Jackson Pollock painting during the storm, so the team hung a matching print in his bedroom.

The third team transformed DeCellio’s home with new furniture, curtains, artwork and pastel accents in each room.

After touring the units and meeting with the teams, Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy said she was extremely impressed with both the designs and the students’ level of commitment to the project.

“I could not be more proud of our students,” said Murphy. “This project is a Brookdale trifecta:  our premier Interior Design program, a real-life learning experience for our students, and a service to very deserving people.  The results, as you can see, are beautiful.”

In order to close some budget gaps, the students had to solicit donations, contributions and volunteer aid from local businesses, friends and family members. Brookdale architecture students also volunteered to help paint the homes.

Donna Blaze, Chief Executive Officer of AHA, said the project proved just how much can be achieved through cooperation and a spirit of volunteerism.

“It feels good to volunteer to make someone else happy, and it feels good to see people happy,” she said. “That’s what it comes down to. If we all work together, we make everybody’s life a little bit better. And that’s what you see here.”

House2Home was also an informal design competition among the teams. Monmouth County-based design professionals Galina Ubogiy, Beth Insabella Walsh and Ria Gulian toured the homes, ultimately declaring a winner. But the selection, Ubogiy said, was not as important as the work that was done.

“It’s just breathtaking,” she said.  “You all are winners.”