As a carpenter and project manager, Nortoh Alexander becomes a familiar figure to families as he renovates their Boston-area homes.
So in September, when Alexander’s mother’s house on the island of Dominica was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, those clients pitched in to help his family rebuild. Through a crowdfunding campaign, homeowners and co-workers at Charlie Allen Renovations raised more than $11,000 for Alexander’s family.
“He’s such a humble and wonderful person,” said Cambridge resident Drew Phelps, who got to know Alexander well during the six months he remodeled Phelps’s home. “We wanted to do everything we could. It was only natural to support him after he’d done so much for us.”
The Category 5 hurricane affected every square mile of the small Caribbean island nation. Three months later, parts of Dominica still lack electricity, houses remain destroyed, and relief efforts continue.
When the storm hit, the 33-year-old Alexander expected the worst. For three or four days after Maria devastated the island, he couldn’t reach anyone on Dominica.
Finally his mother, Roselyne Martin, 58, texted him. “She said she was OK, but the house wasn’t,” Alexander said.
His employer helped Alexander purchase a plane ticket.
“Without a doubt, the only way and the best way to run a company is to support each other in all aspects of our life,” said Julie Palmer, president of Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. “It’s not just about the job; it’s about your family and your life outside of work as well.”
Alexander couldn’t fly straight to Dominica because the airport was shut down. No planes were flying in or out.
Instead, he flew to Miami, then to Haiti and on to Guadaloupe, where he acquired food, water, and other necessities. From there, he chartered a speedboat for the 45-minute trip to Dominica. From the water, he could make out his mother’s house — or what was left of it.
Amid all the destruction, Alexander said just seeing his mother in person after so much uncertainty was “one of the greatest feelings.”
“My mom is one of those people that as long as she has life she’s fine,” said Alexander, who lives in Dorchester. “She’s in a better place than me. She handled it way better than I did.”
He swam to shore and his mother gave him a hug on the beach before collecting the supplies. The once lush and green island was barely recognizable.
“Everything was brown,” Alexander said. “You could barely find a house with a roof on. The entire thing was depressing to look at.”
Back in Cambridge, the crowdfunding had just started. Palmer let him know it was happening. “You can’t say no,” she said to Alexander. “It’s already done.”
So he focused on the task at hand.
No electricity meant no power tools. The skilled craftsman went to work. He set up a temporary cover over his mother’s house and examined the damage.
“It was one of [the] hardest week[s] of my life,” Alexander said. “I had to use all hand tools.”
He had no words when he found out how much money had been raised.
Donating was an easy choice for John Duddy of JD Painting in Quincy.
“The biggest thing that impresses me,” Duddy said of Alexander, “is how hard of a worker he is.”
Since he returned from Dominica, Alexander has been driving his truck from Boston to New York every two weeks to ship generators and other emergency supplies to the island. His mother was expected in Boston for the holidays and to buy materials to begin rebuilding the house.
“Everything is damaged. We gotta start from scratch,” Alexander said. “I’m going to do some of the exterior, kitchen, bathrooms, and doors myself.”
The total estimate to restore the home will be close to $100,000. The money won’t return lost heirlooms or his late grandmother’s belongings that were lost in the storm. But to know he and his mother have so much support means everything.
“I’m working for a company that does care about their employees,” he said. “I didn’t need the hurricane to know that.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.