BERLIN, Vt. – Sandy Gaffney lost the first home she owned and most of her belongings when Tropical Storm Irene ripped through her mobile home park last August. She still tears up talking about it, as the storm’s anniversary approaches.

Like many other mobile home owners, Gaffney couldn’t afford to buy another trailer. But after months of struggle, she has moved back to Weston’s Mobile Home Park, into a renovated trailer, and become an activist, crusading for relief for others displaced by the storm.

“I have a different life now,” said the 64-year-old, sitting in her mobile home, across from a row of mostly empty lots, where trailers were removed. “It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.”

Floodwater from the Aug. 28 storm damaged or destroyed 560 mobile homes in Vermont.

At first, 150 mobile home owners received payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency of $30,200 each, the maximum amount. But many others were on their own because their trailers weren’t considered total losses even though they later had mold damage or weren’t worth fixing.

That’s when the Vermont Workers’ Center, a group that pushes for workers’ rights and living wages, organized the Vermont Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness. Gaffney became an early member.

The retired teacher’s aide in special education had been so proud to buy a home of her own, moving in just 11 months before the storm hit. But after Irene, all her insurance money went to pay the remaining $24,000 mortgage. Her trailer was destroyed.

Like others, she faced having to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for her flooded trailer to be removed from the park.

The offices of the secretary of the Agency of Commerce and the lieutenant governor, the Vermont Community Foundation and others reached out to private donors and eventually raised enough money to move the remaining trailers at no cost to the homeowners.

Gaffney expected to stay in the two-room efficiency apartment she had rented in Montpelier or maybe get a place with her son and his family, who were moving back from Michigan. She didn’t want to go back to Weston’s and certainly never thought she could buy a home again.

That was until she saw the renovated trailer on a raised lot. She planned to use her FEMA money and talked to a community action agency that told her about a fund set up by Burlington developer and philanthropist Tony Pomerleau for flooded mobile home owners.

“This time I needed all the help in the world,” she said.

Gaffney, who moved in in June, gushes about how nice her new mobile home is, with its deck, hardwood floors, wooden beams on the ceiling.

She helped set up a fund in May for trailer residents who were victims of Irene. The fund was started with a gift of $50,000 from a Middlebury couple, David and Eleanor Ignat. The hardest part, Gaffney said, was reading applications detailing hardships people had faced since the storm. Some lost spouses; others had trouble finding affordable housing and incurred large debts buying homes or bought homes that turned out to have problems.

Gaffney recently was offered a stipend from the Vermont Workers’ Center to work with the mobile home parks across the state to organize people to push for social and economic justice and universal health care.

“It’s just been amazing to see her transform from someone who was struggling as a survivor from Irene into a real leader,” said James Haslam, executive director of the center.