Martinez resident Pete Gardner's career spent in real estate was turned on its head when he landed on the other side of the country to trade paper cuts for finger blisters through a Hurricane Sandy Relief mission this summer.
Gardner was one of 10 participants on a nonprofit International Relief Teams trip to New Jersey where he gutted flood-damaged floors and walls to the beams and installed all new hardware.
For six days, Gardner, who paid a $100 participation fee and was given a flight to New Jersey, received barrack-style accommodations in a nearby church, personal instruction with veteran volunteers and welcomed assistance from families with sandwich lunch offerings.
Gardner traded easygoing retirement for a chance to accomplish a longtime desire.
"I'd always thought of working with Habitat for Humanity, that was one of the reasons I did this," he said, as he flipped through the photos he had snapped on his smart phone. "It wasn't dramatic. You wouldn't know anything was wrong because the house looked OK -- from the outside."
Inside told a different story.
Gardner and crew traveled to Ocean and Monmouth counties, both of which were severely impacted by the hurricane. They were the second team to assist in those areas.
Walls and floors were soaked through with floodwaters following the powerful and destructive Atlantic storm that wreaked havoc on the East Coast in late October. Exterior siding was beyond repair, not just at the site where Gardner was working, but also on the surrounding facades.
"It was very deteriorated, and I'm very deteriorated as well," the 70-year-old Gardner joked with a pointed smile. "I wouldn't say I had a good time, but I had a rewarding time."
International Relief Teams, of San Diego, has pledged to send teams every other month for two years to assist in rehabilitation following the storm estimated to have caused as much as $50 billion in damages to infrastructure, utilities, business and more than 250,000 homes.