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Queens cancer survivor gets 'extreme blessing'

(L-R) Bob Superty, president of Operation Blessing Bill

(L-R) Bob Superty, president of Operation Blessing Bill Horan, and niece Carolyn Superty, watch as Barbara Joyce reacts to her newly renovated home. (Feb. 16, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Of the hundreds of volunteer workers and neighbors standing outside Barbara Joyce's Breezy Point home Saturday afternoon, most were complete strangers.

There were financial analysts from Bank of America, construction workers from Canada, even a neighbor Joyce had never met.

So when Joyce finally saw the house, the crowd and the balloons, the weight of the moment, she said, overtook her.

"It's overwhelming," said Joyce, who has lived in the home on Beach 219th Street in Queens since 1970. "I can't believe they are doing this for me."

The spectacle, not unlike a scene from television's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," was courtesy of Operation Blessing International, a nonprofit that fixes up damaged homes across the country.

Organization officials said they had several hundred volunteers working on the home for nine weeks, including many from Bank of America, which helped fund the construction with a $20,000 grant.

Jody Gettys, director of U.S. disaster relief for the nonprofit, said the group had intended to fix up Joyce's home, like many others damaged in Breezy Point. But after speaking to Joyce, she said she started to consider an even larger remodeling project . . . on what she described as the "extreme-blessing level."

Joyce, 78, is a recent cancer survivor who lives alone and had no flood insurance when superstorm Sandy washed over the community. Joyce recalled being devastated, "homeless," she said, after Sandy. She stayed in a friend's apartment, then, most recently, in Mill Basin, Brooklyn.

Before she met Gettys, she said of her Breezy Point home, "I was going to destroy it and run away. It was a shell of a house."

Very few homes the nonprofit has worked on are refurbished to the extent of Joyce's. When asked if she planned to move in last night, Joyce hesitated. "I don't even have my pajamas," she said.

The finished product, with laminate countertops that closely resemble granite, plus a new sofa, floors, remodeled bathrooms and bedrooms "is magical really," said Hailey Saenz, 29, who works on the reserve staff for Operation Blessing and oversaw design decisions on the house.

To neighbors, the renovation is a moment of triumph for Sandy-ravaged Breezy Point.

Pat Hennessy, 53, who lives a block away and lost many of her belongings in the storm, said signs were pointing to a comeback. "It just shows we're going to make it," she said. "It's a strong community that's still in a little shock, but we'll be back, bigger and better."

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