A house fire in September 2017 left Tina Breen and her family displaced from their Manville, New Jersey home. “Luckily we didn’t lose our sentimental things, but we lost our garage, some of the attic, and the whole house had smoke damage,” she recounts with a heaviness. “It wasn’t safe to live in our home. We had to move out, so everything could be professionally cleaned, packed into storage containers, and then the damage repaired.”
While Tina says her insurance company took “really good care of them” during this stressful time, they had difficulty finding temporary housing for the family of seven – Tina and her husband Tommy, their three young daughters, two dogs, and a cat. They felt living in a hotel room wasn’t an option for their large family, so Tina and the girls moved in with her parents, and Tommy and the pets stayed with a family friend.
“A friend gave me great advice at the time, ‘You really need to get your family under the same roof, so you can be a family unit again,’” she says.
The disjointed living arrangement proved difficult as Tina and Tommy, New Jersey natives who have been married for 11 years, balanced work, parenthood, and putting their home back together. “A friend gave me great advice at the time, ‘You really need to get your family under the same roof, so you can be a family unit again,’” she says.
So one morning when they were at the house sorting through personal belongings, Tina took matters into her own hands. “I said to Tommy, ‘we’re getting into the car, and we’re going to drive until we find somewhere to live,’” she says. Tina admits she wasn’t sure where they were going, but she heard about some new construction in neighboring Somerset, so they started in that direction.
The Breens never heard of AVE Somerset before driving by the flexible-stay residential community on Pierce Street that day. “I remember when I first walked into the lobby. I was a mess. Since I’d been at the house, my clothes and hair smelled like smoke. I wasn’t wearing any makeup,” Tina says.
Operations Manager Amanda Hauffe and Senior Residential Sales Manager Brooke Tropeano were working that day. They greeted the Breens and guided them to the café. “I had a hundred things racing through my head. When you’re a parent and you don’t have a home, and you can’t provide the necessity of a roof over your family’s head – you’re just so overwhelmed. I started to cry,” she explains, her voice quivering. “I remember Amanda reacting immediately, ‘Oh my gosh, Tina, what’s wrong?’”
“It didn’t have the feel of a hotel – it had the feel of home. It was warm and welcoming,” Tina says of the two-bedroom furnished suite they stayed in for eight months. “The décor was spa-like, tranquil."
Tina told Amanda about the fire, their current disjointed living situation, and how stressed she was. Through her tears she told Amanda how this was the first time in her life she didn’t have a home. “Amanda looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Tina, don’t cry. This is your home now. We got you, girl!’, and all my stress was lifted,” she shares, her voice still shaky. “I could tell Amanda was a confident woman in business, and I knew she was going to handle it. I trusted her in that 5 minutes of knowing her. It was a combination of how she carried herself, how she spoke, and how meticulously maintained the lobby, café, and bathrooms were.”
The Breens said they were comfortable in their temporary accommodations. “It didn’t have the feel of a hotel – it had the feel of home. It was warm and welcoming,” Tina says of the two-bedroom furnished suite they stayed in for eight months. “The décor was spa-like, tranquil. There was an office area. The kitchen had everything I needed to cook. There was a dining room table big enough to seat my whole family. Lots of closet space. The bedrooms had king-sized beds, so there was plenty of room for the kids to crawl into bed with us.”
Even though the majority of their stay was during the winter and they loved being cozy in their suite, the Breens took every opportunity to get out and be part of the community. “The team tries to bring everyone together by having events at the Clubhouse like Movie Nights and the Halloween Party,” she explains. “It was great for the girls to meet some of the other kids in the neighborhood. The girls won the pumpkin decorating contest, and one of my daughters learned how to hula hoop when they brought in the DJ.”
“The team became my support system for 8 months when I needed someone to lean on,” she says.
Tina is beyond grateful to the entire team at AVE Somerset for making this stressful time in their lives as seamless as possible. “The team became my support system for 8 months when I needed someone to lean on,” she says, citing examples of Amanda and Brooke helping her find a dog walker, recommending local restaurants, and sending Tina home with a plate of food for Tommy when he couldn’t make the resident event. “Those girls are not just whatever their titles are, they really cared about my family. They just took care of everything. I’m always the one taking care of everything, so it was nice to be taken care of.”
The Breens say they made wonderful memories during their 8-month stay at AVE, and consider Amanda, Brooke, and the rest of the team their extended family. They returned to their ‘home away from home’ this past October for AVE Somerset’s Homecoming event.