The News-Review’s 2010 Person of the Year: Linda Hobson

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Linda Hobson in the kitchen of her Horton Avenue home which she remodeled several years ago. She has no hope of ever living in her house again because of mold.

Even though her home and possessions had been destroyed by a flood just days before, lifelong Horton Avenue resident Linda Hobson began Easter morning last year picking up churchgoers who had fallen on hard times and driving them to Mass. She spent the afternoon washing the linens and clothes of her fellow flood victims at a laundromat.

During the next few weeks, Ms. Hobson set up tables of donated clothes, shoes and household items outside her home for anyone who had lost their possessions to the monster rainstorm that devastated her beloved corner of Riverhead Town. She also helped families get new water heaters, found temporary housing for the displaced and even assisted one young woman in acquiring a car after her vehicle was destroyed in the flood.

While aiding her neighbors, Mr. Hobson always had a smile on her face, and no one could claim they ever heard her say a discouraging word.

“In the midst of her own major issues, she was still functioning, reaching out trying to assist other people,” said Shirley Coverdale, who along with Ms. Hobson is a board member of the Long Island Organizing Network nonprofit advocacy group. “She’s just an overall positive person with a lot of energy, very good-hearted.”

Those are just some of the reasons why the News-Review has selected Ms. Hobson as our Person of the Year for 2010.
The severe flooding in the low-lying Horton Avenue area was caused by a late-March storm that dumped about eight inches of rain on an already rain soaked eastern Long Island. With water rushing onto Horton Avenue from the surrounding areas, which include much farmland, at least half a dozen houses were ruined, including Ms. Hobson’s, and many more families suffered devastating financial losses from flood waters that reached the first-floor windows of some Horton Avenue houses. Since then, Ms. Hobson, a social worker by profession, has worked to help the people of her predominately black and Latino neighborhood get the help they need.

Ms. Hobson, who is single and has no children, has met repeatedly with elected officials to ensure that government has been doing its part. And she has always kept her neighbors informed about her efforts and progress.

Most recently, she met with Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to discuss building low-cost houses on county land for people who lost their homes in the flood. County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who has met with Ms. Hobson many times since the flood, has also introduced a bill that would give flood victims priority in the county’s affordable housing program.
“She is a tremendous community organizer and someone who cares deeply about Riverhead and the people that live in it,” said

Mr. Romaine, whose district spans the North Fork.

Riverhead Town and Suffolk County also have an application pending with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a competitive grant that, if awarded, would be used to pay owners for their flood-damaged properties and let the area revert to swampland. The town and county are expecting to hear from FEMA sometime this spring.

The Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Riverhead and Shirley Coverdale’s husband, said he has known Ms. Hobson since she returned home from college in the mid-1980s. He noted that Ms. Hobson, who is an evangelist with the church, works hard as an advocate for the elderly and the needy.

He said he had encouraged her to earn a master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University.

“I think it is a marvelous testimony as to what some of our young people can do for their community when they return from school,” he said of her example. “I think if anyone is fully deserving” of Person of the Year honors, “it would be Evangelist Linda Hobson.”

Despite the hardships she has faced this past year, Ms. Hobson recently told the News-Review she had taken the flood as an opportunity to grow. She said she has stayed strong through her faith and never wavers from her main goal — finding a long-term solution for the residents of the flood-prone area.

“I think on a personal level, this incident has caused me to grow, certainly to become a better community advocate. It has caused me to embrace my neighbors,” she said. “We do have hopes that people will return to something they can call a home. We have to continue to press forward.”

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