FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian prompted Heights Foundation Founder and Executive Director Katherine Kelly and her staff to embark on cleanup and rebuilding efforts, from offering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. switched to
“I have a really great staff,” Kelly said. “One Wednesday a hurricane hit, and on Saturday we got together and said, ‘What can we do?’ thought. Posted on Facebook, bread, peanut butter and jelly were donated. A volunteer came and made hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and water for four or five days. “
The Heights Foundation, located at 15570 Huggy Drive south of Fort Myers, is a grassroots organization that supports community development programs for individuals, students and families by offering philanthropic projects in the community. The foundation also operates community centers, early learning centers and schools.
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According to the Heights Foundation website, there are 350 single-family homes, 400 apartments, and more than 750 children within the boundaries of Harlem Heights, the community the Foundation serves. The district is located along Gladiolus Drive in South Fort Myers.
“We documented 260 homes needing help in the form of debris removal, tarps, trash removal and mold repair,” Kelly said. “We could not access the apartment because it is a rental and the owner of the complex is out of state.”
31% of Harlem Heights families live below the federal poverty level. Average household income is less than $25,000 per year. Demographically, the community is 71% Hispanic, 20% African American, and 9% White.
Hurricane Ian hit Lee County on September 28th. Four weeks later, we still need resources, and organizations like the Heights Foundation continue to provide much-needed help.
“We moved from food to clothing to toiletries to cleaning products,” Kelly says. “After posting on Facebook, we are amazed at the response from donors.Many people from all over the country have donated for us. We are really proud of our staff.”
On Wednesday, the center was filled with tables stacked with air mattresses, blankets and cleaning supplies, and volunteers scattered around to complete various tasks.
Kelly said residents can come to the center and fill out an intake form that tells them what she and her 54 staff members need for each household. Air mattresses, bedding, hot plates, etc., which were frequently requested, are always available at the center.
Kelly said the cleanup phase of the plan was a little difficult for some residents.
“We’re in the mud and guts phase,” Kelly said. “It’s where you get everything out of the house and cut the drywall. Plus it messes up so many things, it’s been a month and people are starting to see mold.
“They realize they have to figure it out. Next is the dryout stage. Then we have a moisture meter that we use to test the moisture level. It should be less than 17%. We’ll do the mold repair when it’s below, we have a mold repair kit you can use yourself if you need it, and we also have a crew that can do it. Restoration will take place within the next week or two, and we are really in the long process of rebuilding.”
Kelly said next steps include planning on how to rebuild and looking at ways to further help residents.
“We’re trying to identify what it looks like,” Kelly said. “We need volunteers to help with drywall, flooring, and installation. We’re talking about holding a job fair in the next few weeks.Many Harlem Heights residents worked in Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel.Not only have they lost their homes, they’ve lost jobs. I lost my car and my car.The great thing about the American Subcontractor Association is that they are willing to train people.The unemployed can find a job and the contractors who need help get help. I think it’s definitely a win-win.”
Harlem Heights resident Thomas Goodman of 45 years evacuated his home before Hurricane Ian hit. But he soon came back and had to wade through five feet of water.
“We’re going to get over this,” said Goodman, 59. “It’s tragic. I’ve never seen a hurricane of this magnitude. But as I always say, ‘When God calls us all to answer, I know you will. It doesn’t matter what color it is.This world belongs to him.We have no choice but to unite and help each other.It’s wonderful that so many people came to help us from outside the prefecture.Thank you very much.”
Goodman says he wakes up early every day to tackle the task of cleaning the house bit by bit.
“The roof is fine,” said Goodman. “We’re assembling floors, furniture, etc. Volunteers helped tear down the drywall. I’m an early riser. I get up around 5 in the morning. I’m trying to figure out how to fix it. I don’t want to waste time.”
More than 400 volunteers have volunteered at least 2,800 hours by October 22, Kelly said.
Volunteering is a family matter, according to Chris Horvath, an Adventures in Mission volunteer who traveled from Minnesota to Southwest Florida with his family.
“God called us three days before the storm,” said Horvath, 40. “I have come with my family of four to serve and help rebuild this community for the next year. Penelope, Nora, Hazel, son Lucas, and wife Sarah.”
Horvath believes in teaching children at a young age the importance of helping others in times of need.
“I love it,” agreed nine-year-old Penelope. “I like doing new things and sharing God’s word with people.”
Horvath said the key is consistency.
“We are here to keep this community alive and ensure there is no hiatus between demolition and the start of rebuilding,” Horvath said. “With the help of this amazing community, we were able to target specific people who needed help: seniors, single mothers and dads. helps them be the first to act.Some people never even step out of their homes, so I try to keep them as comfortable as possible.”
Horvath said people who have experienced a lot of loss are ready to return to some sense of normalcy.
“All we can do is love them and let them know that we are here for them in some way,” Horvath said. I’m helping to get the last few floors ready so someone can come in and start the rebuilding process.”
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