MARK Project plays pivotal role in flood relief

This month will mark a year since the devastating flood caused by Hurricane Irene devoured whole communities in the Catskills, including the widespread destruction suffered in Fleischmanns, Arkville and Margaretville.

In the months since, The MARK Project, a non-profit local and regional housing and business development agency, has injected more than $750,000 into flood relief and small business development funds into our local communities. “In the days and weeks following one of the most destructive natural disasters ever to hit the region, our communities somehow emerged stronger,” said MARK Executive Director Peg Ellsworth.

In the days after the flood, urgent rescue and re-homing efforts were paramount. MARK helped assist 52 displaced from their homes in an effort to get them resituated into either temporary or permanent housing situations.

Thirty-nine households received financial assistance (paid either to a contractor or a vendor for work performed or items purchased) to the tune of $129,225. Immediate emergency relief to 54 businesses totaled more than $130,000.

A logical choice
“The reason we were able to muster such resources so quickly was because so many folks in our communities who wanted to contribute money or time saw MARK as the most logical centrifuge for their efforts,” said Ellsworth, adding, “MARK was the most visible point of outreach, not only for those in distress, but for those who wanted to help.” “Because we had an open program in place for building rehabilitation, we had the check and balances necessary to take the lead on so many of these needed post flood recovery and rebuilding efforts…I can’t help but wonder how this all would have played out if MARK weren’t here.”

In addition to mustering hundreds of thousands in donations, MARK also helped coordinate the efforts of more than 15 volunteer groups, with more than 250 people participating actively. MARK took an active roll in much needed mold remediation and was able to tap into donated cleaning supplies and tools. MARK also assisted almost 200 individuals and businesses in applying for other funding sources such as CWC and the SBA as well as helping with FEMA and Insurance paperwork. MARK was also able to roll some of the more adversely affected properties into our larger owner occupied home repair assistance programs. “We actually had to add staff in the aftermath of the flood, and we now employ six full-time, local community members” said Ellsworth. 

But some local planners and residents were also looking ahead, far from the immediate effects of Irene to a more long-term sustainable future, especially for businesses and economic development.

Low-key personnel
Two long-term residents in particular (who wish to remain “low key”) have been seminal in helping MARK establish its Small Business Development Fund.  The initial focus of the fund was to award mini-grants of up to $5,000 to businesses in the Town of Middletown seeking to improve their business infrastructure, inventory or marketing strategies.

“In just six months, we’ve awarded more than 44 grants, over and above the first round of flood relief assistance,” said Ellsworth, adding, “Thanks to the enormous generosity and foresight of these local philanthropists, we were then able to launch a second round of more ambitious grants, up to $25,000 (up to 65 percent of a project) for even more comprehensive business improvements.

To date, all told, the Small Business Development Fund has awarded more than $240,000 in grants, with more than three dozen businesses assisted.”

Work expanded
Assistance to Main Street Buildings in Fleischmanns was available as part of a pre-flood program put together by MARK, but MARK responded to the flood by working with the state to make the program requirements easier for building owners to participate. Roxbury is currently participating in a Main Street Program and recently the governor’s office announced that the “Cheese Barrel Block” is the recipient of $300,000 grant as part of the Southern Tier’s Regional Economic Development Council’s Community Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This was an application written and submitted by MARK in early July. “I am thrilled we could help get that final injection of funds needed for the Cheese Barrel Block. These funds will go a long way in what’s needed for the final stages of exterior rehabilitation on both the fronts and backs of a row of mixed use buildings” said Ellsworth.

“It was an emotional time for all of us, and my staff especially, who heard and saw the effects hundreds of families, friends and fellow business owners, some of whom were going through this for the second or even third time,” said Ellsworth.

She added, “I commend their professionalism during the most trying circumstances, and the enormous strength of character and resilience shown by virtually everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Find out more about MARK at 586-3500 or on-line at: markproject.org.