Manny Fountain: “I wake up every day and I thank God this is my home. I say this is my ‘forever home’ because I hope to stay here for a while.”
Visit: August 7
Long Branch, NJ
Manny Fountain was living in an apartment a half block away from the Seaside Heights boardwalk before Superstorm Sandy. Born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and permanently disabled from a car accident in which his sister lost her life, it was his first time living on his own. He relished the independence.
With Sandy headed straight for New Jersey and people along the shore and intercostal waterways ordered to evacuate, Manny stuffed a small suitcase and a small duffle bag with clothes and left town, knowing he was facing another setback.
“My life has been a struggle pretty much from the day I was born,” he says.
At the time, he didn’t realize how large a setback Sandy would deal him. Displaced by the storm, he slept on his uncle’s couch for a year. Then he stayed in a motel room with no kitchen and no public transportation access for 16 months as he tried to find permanent housing through housing authorities and social services agencies. He admits there were times he felt utterly alone and saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
That changed when Fountain’s disaster case manager with Catholic Charities, Lynn Townshend, saw an advertisement and read a news article about Woodrow Wilson Commons, a new affordable housing community in Long Branch funded with Sandy recovery dollars through the Fund for Restoration of Multifamily Housing (FRM) Program.
The FRM Program provides zero-interest and low-interest loans to housing developers to finance affordable housing development in the nine counties most impacted by Sandy, including Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union. Notably, the program requires that during the first 90 days of an FRM project’s lease-up, priority is given to qualified Sandy-impacted residents.
Fountain applied to live at Woodrow Wilson Commons, received priority because he was displaced by Sandy, and moved into his new, wheelchair-accessible, one-bedroom apartment on February 1, 2015.
“The DCA’s (New Jersey Department of Community Affairs) Sandy funds made this beautiful apartment possible. It is so accommodating,” he says. “My family wasn’t in a position to help me, but you guys did and you didn’t know me from Adam.”
Inspired by the “caring, selfless, compassionate people” he’s met after Sandy, Fountain is now enrolled in a graduate program for social work at Monmouth University, which is less than one mile away from his apartment.
“I feel so blessed and so thankful that I want to give back,” Fountain says. “I want to prove that the investment people made in me wasn’t for nothing.”
He frequently says if it weren’t for the Sandy recovery funds that made Woodrow Wilson Commons possible, he would very likely still be in the motel, his life at a standstill.
“I wake up every day and I thank God this is my home,” Fountain says. “I say this is my ‘forever home’ because I hope to stay here for awhile.”
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